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April 7, 2010

Column #1,493

Marriage Counseling Increases Odds of Divorce

By Mike McManus

“We did everything to save our marriage, such as going to a counselor.  But we still got divorced.”  How often have you heard couples say that?

Has it ever occurred to you that couples who go to America’s 100,000 marriage counselors actually are “substantially more likely to divorce, than couples who forego this option.”

That’s the shocking conclusion of a very reputable study published as a recent book, “Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America,” by Steven Nock, Laura Sanchez and James Wright.  The study examines the impact of a Covenant Marriage Law passed by Louisiana championed by a then-obscure Rep. Tony Perkins, now President of the Family Research Council, the lobbying arm of Focus on the Family.

Almost exactly 40 years ago, California became the first state to allow a divorce without any evidence that a spouse was guilty of a major fault, such as adultery, abuse or abandonment. One simply alleged that there was an “irremediable breakdown of the marriage.”  

Pushed by feminists and lawyers eager for business, virtually all states quickly passed similar No Fault Divorce laws, allowing unilateral divorce.  The number of divorces, which had already doubled in the 60’s, jumped again from 639,000 in 1969 to 1,039,000 by 1975.

Covenant Marriage, passed in 1997, was the first law in America designed to restore traditional marriage. It gave every couple in Louisiana a choice between a conventional marriage that could be ended easily and a fortified marriage that, for the first time, required premarital counseling and was significantly harder to terminate. 

Couples choosing Covenant Marriage agreed to take all “reasonable steps” to preserve their marriage, including marriage counseling to heal any crisis.  They waived their rights to No Fault Divorce and agreed to either prove their partner was guilty of a major fault, or to live apart for two years, while a conventional marriage required only a separation of six months.

Covenant Marriage is “the first comprehensive legal reform in at least a century intended to make both marriage and divorce more rather than less difficult to obtain,” write the authors. I praised it a column, hoping other states would pass similar laws. Arizona and Arkansas did so.

 With what result? 

What is most disappointing is that only 2% of couples chose a Covenant Marriage. Why? Only a third of clerks in marriage offices asked if couples wanted one or gave brochures according to confederates of the researchers posing as marriage applicants. Most clerks were indifferent or hostile, often saying,” All marriages are covenants anyway.”

However, the deeper problem was most clergy did not advise couples to choose a Covenant Marriage “to give your marriage the extra protection it offers.”

Indeed, the Catholic Church, which marries 53 percent of Louisiana’s couples, actually opposed the law, because it implied that the standard marriages are inferior, “marriage lite,” an imitation of the real thing.  But that’s what standard marriages are, requiring no counseling before marriage or divorce, allowing one person to file for divorce unilaterally.

“More significant, the Catholic Church also objected to the premarital counseling provision because it required a discussion of divorce, which the Church does not recognize.”

This is profoundly short-sighted. Since the church opposes divorce, I would think it would only perform Covenant Marriages which are more likely to succeed.

                In fact, in studying 700 marriages, half from each category, over four years, 8.6 percent of Covenant Marriages ended in divorce vs. 15.4 percent of standard ones, James Wright told me.

                What’s most shocking, however, is found on page 122: “All forms of marital counseling are associated with a two- to threefold increase in the likelihood of divorce.”  Why? “Many couples sought and obtained (ital) divorce counseling (cl ital) (rather than counseling to avoid divorce.) “ 

                Dr. Bill Doherty of the Un. of Minnesota, says, “A lot of people doing marriage counseling are not trained and are incompetent. Even Christian counselors and pastors recommend divorce.”  He has created marriagefriendlytherapists.com which lists 260 good ones.

                Another answer is to train couples whose marriages once nearly failed, to mentor those in current crisis. A couple who survived adultery is uniquely gifted to help a couple through infidelity.

                Covenant Marriage was a valiant attempt to reform marriage and divorce law. It prompted the Bush Administration to give $100 million a year in grants to strengthen marriage.

                However, Tony Perkins, its creator, now says he favors replacing No Fault with Mutual Consent in cases involving children: “No Fault leaves one spouse powerless over their future. Mutual Consent would give a voice to the powerless.”

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