Senate considering bill to prevent divorces

By Billy Corriher

In a bid to reduce divorces, the state Senate is considering a bill that would encourage young couples to undergo premarital counseling by offering a $40 discount for marriage licenses.

Under the bill, approved by the state House of Representatives last week, marriage licenses would cost $50 without four hours of premarital counseling and only $10 for couples with counseling. The counselor could be a licensed therapist, psychologist, or clergy.

"It's not going to save many marriages, but if it saves one, if it helps one couple understand what marriage is all about, then let's do it," said Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah, sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Jim Stokes, D-Covington, said he voted against the bill because he was weary of infringing on people's private decisions.

"If they're old enough to get married, they should know if they need to get counseling," he said. "We have a lot of divorces, and I'm all for people having responsibility for their marriage, but I guess I wasn't in favor of directing people to counseling they may not want."

Kenyetza Williams and Damien Eafford, a local couple who were applying for a marriage license Thursday morning, said they did not undergo premarital counseling and didn't really think they needed to.

"We get enough (counseling) from our families at home," Williams said.

The couple has been together for three years, she said, and have been planning to get married for almost a year.

"We've put a lot of thought into it," Eafford said.

Eafford is in the Army and the family will soon be moving to Fort Bragg, N.C. where he'll be stationed.

"We're planning to have a ceremony once we get settled in," he said.

Greg Samples, a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Stockbridge, said counseling is beneficial for any couple, and he would like to see even stronger encouragement for couples to undergo premarital counseling.

Samples said couples could get counseling relatively cheap, even free in some cases.

"I think it's appalling that people will spend $15,000 to $50,000 for a wedding, but not spend anything on counseling to prepare for a marriage," he said.

Marriage Works is an organization that Samples and a colleague recently started that seeks to educate couples on how to make their marriage work. Samples offers premarital classes at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro on the second Wednesday of every month from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

If couples don't take the time for premarital counseling and the marriage doesn't work out, Samples said, divorce is financially and emotionally draining, especially for couples with children.

"There are very few children who escape divorce unharmed," he said.

Samples said many young couples decide to get married when their relationship is still in the "romantic phase," when they haven't been fully exposed to each other's negative qualities.

"I help them begin to deal with the reality that a marital relationship is really hard work," he said.

Samples said many young women, in particular, go into a marriage thinking that their groom's negative tendencies will go away once he's married.

"They're probably not going to change just because you're married," he said.

Samples said the bride and groom are each affected by their own upbringing and have distinct personalities, which will naturally lead to some conflict.

"They bring in different values, different traditions, different ways of dealing with conflicts and raising children," he said. "It's not about the differences, it's about how you deal with those conflicts."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.