Bill Would Mandate Counseling for Marriage, Divorce

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Anyone getting married or divorced would have to

undergo counseling under a bill proposed by a Jacksonville

legislator.

Some family law practitioners praised Rep. Steve Wise's goal of

strengthening marriages but questioned the counseling

requirements in the bill.

"You're just interjecting more government into people's lives,"

said Russell Healey, chairman of the Jacksonville Bar

Association's family law section.

Wise admitted he was advocating legislation that conflicts with

his philosophy of less government intrusion.

But, he said, "there are certain things that override

philosophy."

Wise earlier conceded his original proposal to eliminate the

state's no-fault divorce law, enacted in 1971, was just a way to

attract interest on how to strengthen marriages.

Rep. Elaine Bloom, a Miami Beach Democrat co-sponsoring the

bill, came to Wise when she heard about the no-fault bill and

suggested joining forces on the issue of marriage counseling.

Wise said he wants people getting married or divorced to have

the details they need about their legal rights and

responsibilities.

Without it, he said, they could be "taken to the cleaners."

The Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act of 1997 is all

that's left of Wise's idea for eliminating the state's no-fault

divorce law and requiring proof of fault before a divorce could

be granted.

The bill would require four hours of premarital counseling by a

professional counselor, therapist, psychologist, social worker,

family law mediator, representative of a religious institution

or someone approved by the chief judge of the judicial circuit.

The same approved counselors would provide the 12 hours of

counseling at six separate sessions that would be required

before a couple could file for divorce.

The costs for the counseling would fall on those getting a

marriage license or filing for divorce. The state would provide

a registry of private counselors and sites where courses would

be offered, although participants could chose to go elsewhere

for the service.

A person who refused to take the counseling course still could

get a divorce after waiting 90 days from the time the notice of

intent to divorce was filed, but the judge could consider that

fact in awarding alimony, child support or property

distribution, Wise said.

Among the subjects that must be part of the pre-divorce course

are the negative effects of divorce on children, men, women and

society, keeping antagonism out of the divorce process and the

attorney relationship. …