Pre Marriage and Marriage Education
Women's Action Alliance believes that embarking on and maintaining a marriage is one of life's most important and satisfying commitments. A commitment to marriage is the ideal foundation for family life. A woman and man choosing marriage are entitled to the protection of the law. A commitment involving such serious mutual obligation and responsibilities - children and property - should be defined as a contract, for the protection of all parties.
Continued social research into the sources of marital instability is desirable in order to identify ways to reduce the rate of marriage breakdown.
Pre-marriage and marriage education services need to be expanded so that they can be more readily available to all.
Marriage breakdown is a tragedy for all involved and imposes an enormous cost on the community. Figures show that divorce has increased over the last decade by 12% but the real level of separation could be higher given the increase in de facto relationships.
The implications for many children's life chances are grave. A growing body of evidence exists which shows that children who grow up in sole parent families are disadvantaged in terms of family poverty, educational attainment, rate of juvenile drug taking, crime involvement, homeless etc. An increased rate of child abuse occurs in blended families, especially where no marriage exists and where the male is not the natural parent.
Who would benefit from programs aimed at preventing marriage breakdown?
All prospective couples would benefit from pre marriage education courses and all married couples would benefit from participating in quality marriage education courses. Currently less than 30% of couples planning to marry attend such courses.
A major Australian research project, called 'Love, Sex and Waterskiing", performed in 1992, showed that of 1,700 participants in pre marriage and marriage programs
83% of couples reported learning new skills
42% said their ideas about marriage had changed
5% either cancelled or postponed their wedding
91% reported that they would seek professional help if problems arose in their marriage
1/3 said that the program raised new issues for them
80% rated their program as good or excellent.
Extensive family research has shown that people in the following categories are more at risk of marriage breakdown than the general population. Special efforts should be made to encourage them to attend pre marriage and marriage education programs.
People whose family history has not been a stable one
People who have lived in an environment of violence and deprivation
Couples who have lived in a de facto relationship prior to marriage
Couples where one or both have been previously married
The most effective strategies to assist young people to commit to a lifelong marriage
Family of Origin
The most effective education of young people about the nature and importance of marriage, either positive or negative, occurs within their family of origin. The success or otherwise of parental marriage inevitably has an effect on the child's view of marriage. People, who have grown up in a broken marriage are likely to commence their union with a more pessimistic expectation of it's likely permanence. We believe that the capacity of parents to model to their children the positive aspects of marriage should be strengthened.
Education in Schools
Where Human Relationships courses exist in academic curricula, the merits of marriage should be taught
§ the value, in terms of emotional, financial and social stability, of the marriage relationship
§ the positive benefits of marriage to children
§ the good that follows on to society from having stable families
Pre Marriage Courses
Pre marriage education courses are designed primarily to encourage couples to discuss some of the critical emotional and practical issues surrounding the marriage commitment and to assist them with developing good communication skills. Pre marriage education should become a normal and intrinsic part of marriage preparation - just as normal as organising the wedding reception, booking the church, hiring the cars etc.
Marriage Education Courses
Marriage Education Courses should be viewed as benefiting marriage just as professional development courses are seen as being advantageous to career success. Pre marriage education courses should be structured in such a way as to lead onto a series of marriage education programs set at appropriate intervals in the marriage life cycle. Consideration should be given to including components on marriage enrichment in pre natal and parenting education courses as a way of assisting couples who seek them.
The influence of the law on society's view of marriage should not be overlooked. The introduction of the Family Law Act in 1975 has changed public perceptions. A good family law should buttress, rather than undermine, the stability of marriage. This was the first principle on which were based the series of Bills drawn up in 1973 which culminated in the 1975 Family Law Act.
Consideration should be given to extending the period of separation required before divorce. This change would signal to society that the marriage contract should not be entered into lightly nor discarded casually.
The valuable role of counselling for couples experiencing difficulties should not be underestimated. We believe that the primary objective of counselling should be to assist couples to resolve problems with the aim, wherever possible, of maintaining the marriage relationship.
The role of the media
Marriage is portrayed in a negative light in our popular culture. Movies, television soapies, magazines etc. depict marriage as boring and de facto/casual relationships as more satisfying or giving freedoms to individuals not available to a married person. This is far from the truth. In fact the research shows that the most frequent and satisfying sexual relationships are those conducted within marriage.
The role of Government should be
1. To fund accredited organisations which provide family services
2. To fund good quality research into aspects of marriage preparation and marriage courses.
3. To fund research into the causes of marriage breakdown and develop social policy to address those causes.
4. To fund dissemination of statistics and information that will assist people in making informed choices.
5. To support marriage over other forms of relationship as a recognised measure to maintain a healthy society.
6. To focus on preventative strategies to reduce the number of marriage breakdowns.
In order to further encourage and support people making the commitment to marriage
!. The compulsory marriage notification period of one month should be extended to three months in order to allow time for couples to participate in a pre marriage education course.
2. The responsible Government agency should send a letter of congratulations to the couple planning marriage with information as to where they can attend a pre marriage course. A complimentary voucher to assist in the cost of the approved course should accompany this information.
3. The introduction of a scheme that would benefit couples marrying for the first time only. The scheme could involve waiving or refunding the tax on interest on savings accumulated specifically for the purchase of a house/unit. This would be a clear signal to the community that marriage and a couples' long term commitment is supported by Government and the general community.
The health and happiness of families and society rests largely on the success of it's marriages. Preventative strategies, education, enrichment and crisis assistance are all vital in achieving the goal of more stable lifelong marriages.