State Policies to Promote Marriage. C. Marriage and Relationship Preparation and Education


All jurisdictions have some requirements around the issuance of marriage licenses. For example, 10 require a blood test. Twenty-one require a waiting period between the license application date and the receipt of the license (ranging from 24 hours to 5 days). Twenty-five require a waiting period between the license and the ceremony (ranging from 72 hours to 6 days). All jurisdictions have a marriage license fee. (Table 4 in the detailed matrices provides additional information on state marriage laws.) We explored whether states have taken steps to require or encourage couples to participate in marriage and relationship preparation or education activities. Specifically, we examined incentives for marriage preparation, marriage education for adults, state funding for marriage support, and remarriage waiting periods. To some extent, there is overlap between the first two categories. That is, many states proposed or passed policies to decrease marriage license fees or waiting periods for couples who take education courses or receive counseling. If education decreases fees or reduces waiting periods, we include it in the incentive area. If it is mandated for all couples and has no effect on waiting periods or fees, we include it under marriage education. Twenty-two states have passed or introduced legislation in one or more of the listed topic areas. (Table 5 in the detailed matrices provides additional information on state policies.)

Incentives for marriage preparation for adults. Thirteen states have activity in this area.(22) Five of these states have implemented policies. Florida reduced license fees by 37 percent for couples who participate in education; additionally, couples who do not take a four-hour class must wait three days to obtain a license. Tennessee waives $60 of a $62.50 add on to the marriage license fee if couples participate in a premarital education course.(23) In Minnesota, there is a $50 fee reduction if the couple takes a 12-hour course that includes communications skills and conflict management. This measure was previously vetoed by the Governor, who argued that it was an intrusion into people’s lives. The second attempt passed in large part because it was not a free-standing initiative but part of a larger appropriations bill. Maryland also enacted a license reduction law, which had been previously vetoed. Oklahoma reduces the fee from $25 to $5 for those who take a course.

Eight other states proposed one or more bills. In five of these states, the bills are still under consideration. Illinois proposed a 60-day waiting period for a license if couples do not take a four-hour class. California proposed legislation permitting counties to discount the marriage license fee if potential couples complete a premarital education course. A Michigan bill would increase the waiting period before a marriage license is issued if couples do not participate in a pre-marital education program. Iowa and South Dakota propose reducing marriage license fees if couples complete some type of pre-marital course.(24) Bills failed in five states. New Mexico proposed a bill to give a $100 tax credit to couples who complete a premarital preparation course (it died in committee). Michigan required a longer waiting period for those who did not complete pre-marital counseling (a similar measure was reintroduced in 2001). Alaska, Arizona, and Iowa (a previous attempt) proposed a license fee reduction for those who take education courses.

Marriage education for adults. Twenty-one states addressed marriage education for adults. These policies generally are not mutually exclusive from other categories. For example, as indicated above, five states offer incentives for couples to participate in marriage education(25) and eight states proposed to do so.(26) In addition to these efforts, 12 states passed or proposed legislation that would require or encourage marriage education.(27) In these instances, education is not tied to an incentive. Two states enacted laws that require premarital counseling (Indiana and Mississippi). A similar bill was introduced in Wisconsin, while bills failed in four states (Connecticut, Kansas, Utah, and Virginia). The Connecticut bill, for instance, required marriage license applicants under age 30 and never married to participate in at least ten hours of counseling before they could obtain a license.

Other policies include the distribution of a handbook to all marrying couples that describes rights and responsibilities (Florida and Texas); a third state (California) did not pass similar legislation. Arizona is funding a Marriage and Community Skills Program, which offers vouchers for marriage skills training, a marriage handbook, and other activities. Oklahoma offers relationship skills workshops to unmarried and married couples that help them build better relationships. Utah developed a video for couples anticipating marriage. Finally, Michigan introduced a bill that would provide a tax credit for couples that participate in marriage education, enrichment, or preservation programs.

State funding for marriage preparation and support. Similar to the concept of personal incentives to participate in premarital education is state funding for marriage and relationship preparation. Six states provide funding in this area. Of these, five are using TANF funds for various preparation activities.(28) Oklahoma is using $10 million in TANF funds for a number of marriage-related activities. Arizona appropriated approximately $1 million in TANF funds for a marriage and communications skills program, vouchers for marriage skills training, and a marriage handbook. Michigan is using $250,000 to pilot an initiative to strengthen and support marriage. Utah is funding videos for couples preparing to marry. Wisconsin designated $210,000 in unspent TANF funds to create the Community Marriage Policy Project, which will coordinate and assist local members of the clergy to develop community-wide standards for marriage. The state also enacted a full-time state-level position to establish community marriage policies. The sixth state, Texas, increased the license fee and earmarked funds to create and distribute a manual for all couples planning to marry.

Remarriage waiting periods. Four states require a certain amount of time to elapse between the date a divorce is granted and filing for remarriage. Oklahoma and Wisconsin each require six months. Alabama requires 60 days, while Texas requires 30 days.