Till Divorce Do Us Part Florida Couples Wanting to Get Married Are Now Required to Get Counseling or Wait. So Far, Response Has Been Mixed

By Wakefield, Vivian | The Florida Times Union, February 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Till Divorce Do Us Part Florida Couples Wanting to Get Married Are Now Required to Get Counseling or Wait. So Far, Response Has Been Mixed


Wakefield, Vivian, The Florida Times Union


Tynan Roney and Brian Pruett were looking forward to their Valentine's Day wedding date when they arrived at the Duval County Courthouse last week to apply for a marriage license.

But before they could get the application, they were given a booklet to read -- and it dealt mostly with divorce.

"When people are trying to get married, I don't want to hear about divorce," Roney said. "It's kind of a downer."

That reaction mirrors the response clerks have received from many couples preparing to walk down the aisle, now that a new state law aimed at cutting the divorce rate has gone into effect.

Divorce has become almost commonplace. Last year, 8,394 marriage licenses were issued in Duval County, while judges granted 5,799 divorces.

So, as of Jan. 1, couples wanting to marry in Florida are required to go through premarital counseling or wait three days before they receive a marriage license.

The new law requires couples to read a handbook on the rights and responsibilities of marriage, including details on Florida domestic violence and child abuse laws.

While the law is intended to promote and preserve marriages, couples have complained to clerks about the fact that a central theme in the handbook is divorce.

For example, the first page of the booklet reads: "Congratulations! You're getting married -- hopefully, for the rest of your life. It may surprise you to learn that the State of Florida has an interest in your marriage. Not in the number of bridesmaids, or the flavor of the cake, or even the color of the flowers -- but in whether the marriage is long lasting and happy."

The booklet details how getting married is more than about living together, moving away from parents or having legal permission to have sex.

The booklet states that marriage is a legal relationship. It gives general information about the marriage contract and the relationship in accordance with the laws in effect during the summer of 1998.

The booklet, put together by the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, gives legal information on alimony, child support payments, child custody and responsibility, domestic violence, child abuse and how the court divides assets and liabilities upon divorce.

The booklet even goes so far as to tell couples how to get a divorce: detailing the process step-by-step, informing couples that many courthouses have opened clinics with the forms required for dissolution of marriage proceedings and that the divorce forms can be obtained on the Internet (the Web address is listed).

Lawmakers created the booklet to inform couples of the laws concerning the responsibility of marriage in regard to the couple and their children.

But the booklet's information is distasteful to couples about to take the vows.

"I think it's too much stuff on divorce," said Pruett, 21. "They're not promoting the positive side of life. I didn't read half that stuff because we're not going to get divorced. As soon as I got to that, I said, 'Skip it.' ''

Lawmakers tried to encourage people to get the marriage counseling by offering a $32.50 discount on the $88.50 marriage license fee for couples who complete counseling. Still, counseling fees vary depending on provider because the new law doesn't mandate how much a counselor can charge.

And most folks who got marriage licenses in Duval County in January opted not to take the discount. Of the 316 couples who got marriage licenses last month, only 25 took the counseling, with the remaining 291 opting for the three-day waiting period.

Court clerk officials aren't sure why more people aren't choosing the four-hour counseling, which must be given by a counselor or religious figure registered with the courthouse.

Ruth Kleincq, one of the first counselors to register at the courthouse, said she hasn't received any patients seeking counseling to get a marriage license. …

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