TALLAHASSEE -- Anyone getting married or divorced would have to
undergo counseling under a bill proposed by a Jacksonville
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
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
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
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