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Counseling could help Utah couples get marriage license discounts

Published February 17, 2012 11:10 am

HB132 • House panel backs bill to discount marriage licenses.
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Despite plenty of pre-wedding bill jitters, a committee endorsed legislation Friday that would give couples a discount on marriage licenses if they attend prenuptial counseling or classes first.

The House Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to advance HB132, by Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, and sent it to the full House.

As amended, the bill would charge $10 for a license for those who take classes or counseling. Currently, licenses cost $50 in most counties. The bill originally called for boosting that fee to $65 for those who choose not to take the classes, but the committee erased that increase.

That came after Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, called the planned increase an extra "tax on marriage" and complained fees are already too high.

The bill also would create a three-day waiting period between when a license is issued and a wedding could occur — unless classes are taken. Several members expressed concern about that, but Pitcher said his bill would allow county clerks to waive that requirement in what they feel are extraordinary cases.

Alan Hawkins, a Brigham Young University professor of family life, testified that research has shown "premarital education can help couples learn better communication and problem-solving skills, strengthen commitment and help them deal with the inevitable problems of married life. It also appears to reduce divorce rates."

While Pitcher said the classes would be voluntary, Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said the discounts and waiting period would make it feel mandatory — and several members wondered aloud whether government should do that.

For license discounts, the bill would require at least six hours in classes or three hours of counseling by an ordained minister or licensed counselor.

The bill says the classes or counseling should include, as a minimum, such topics as: marital fidelity; effective communication and problem-solving skills, including avoiding violence and abuse; effective financial management; and discussing "any information that could reasonably affect the decision to marry."

ldavidson@sltrib.com