Utah just celebrated the 25th anniversary of its healthy marriages initiative, a statewide effort to help people build and maintain strong marriages.
There’s a great need to strengthen marriage in the U.S., given its decades-long decline and the many consequences of family breakdown, particularly among lower-income communities.
Utah’s initiative is an example other states’ leaders can follow to foster a culture of healthy marriage.
Since the inception of Utah’s healthy marriage initiative back in 1998 under then-Gov. Mike Leavitt, state leaders have worked with private organizations and community leaders to provide educational resources to bolster marriage.
Today, most of Utah’s healthy marriage resources are provided through the state’s StrongerMarriage.org website. The site provides a variety of educational tools: a self-guided marriage education course, a research-based relationship assessment for couples preparing for marriage, links to healthy-marriage and relationship education courses in the state (including virtual classes), monthly webinars, and downloadable guidebooks on topics such as preparing for marriage and how to deal with thoughts about divorce.
The initiative also provides a weekly podcast featuring interviews with marriage and family-life professionals. Utah provides these resources at no charge for state residents.
Utah also runs a “Marriage Education Discount” program, which gives couples a discount on their marriage license fee if they participate in premarital education or counseling. Several other states have these types of policies in place, but most are currently dormant. An early study of Texas’ marriage education discount program found a modest decline in divorce associated with such a policy, though.
Utah also requires education for divorcing couples to help them learn about the effects of divorce and to offer couples resources for reconciliation should they want to try and salvage their marriage.
Researchers find that a small but not insignificant share of couples in the divorce process say they would be interested in reconciliation. Utah’s policy is designed to help couples such as those recognize that they may be able to address their marital problems.
State dollars, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, and other sources of already available funding can be put towards effort to strengthen marriage.
Of course, state and local governments aren’t the only ones needed in marriage-strengthening efforts. Some private organizations, oftentimes churches, are already engaged in this work. But many more leaders are needed to help rebuild a society where more people feel hopeful about, and capable of, building and maintaining healthy marriages.
Children raised by their married, biological parents also have better outcomes in numerous areas of life, including better physical and mental health, higher educational achievement, reduced delinquency, and substantial protection against poverty.
Marriage is also one of the most important factors predicting social mobility. Even children raised without married parents are more likely to move upward economically when there are more married parents in their communities.
Healthy, stable marriages are foundational to thriving communities and societies. With greater focus on building a culture of strong marriages, more Americans will be able to reap the benefits.
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