About a third of married couples take part in premarital education or counseling. Married couples who get premarital education reduce their divorce risk by about a third, among many other benefits. Communities with Community Marriage Policies, in which the town's clergy agree to require all the couples they marry to get premarital counseling, have reduced their divorce rate by an average of 2%, or about 30,000 divorces prevented so far. Most religious marriage counseling is free, and there are free or inexpensive options in most communities. Better marriages and fewer divorces are in the public interest, so most public-minded groups and agencies are very supportive of premarital education.
States can encourage couples to get premarital education by reducing the wedding license fees. The five states that have such policies so far – Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee – give a discount of $20 to $50. This discount is as much a symbol of the state's commitment as it is a serious incentive to get premarital counseling, but it does have an effect.
Alan Hawkins, a family studies professor at Brigham Young, has helpfully reviewed the benefits and costs of state policies encouraging premarital education. He concludes that such policies save money, are politically feasible, and, most importantly, that premarital education improves marriages and reduces the divorce rate.
In Kentucky marriage license fees run about $35. To offer a discount for premarital counseling that would make a difference, we would probably need to raise the initial fee. If the license fee were $50 and the discount were $25 – that is, 50% off for getting an education that will help your marriage – this program could make a difference at almost no new direct cost to the state.
Encouraging premarital education and counseling through a voluntary program and a modest discount from the state is a feasible, helpful, centrist approach to improving marriages – and thus improving public life.