Minnesota will pick up tab to counsel divorcing couples
By Cheryl Wetzstein
8:37 p.m., Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The state of Minnesota will soon begin offering, at state expense, divorce reconciliation services to couples considering dissolving their marriages.
The Minnesota Couples on the Brink project was signed last week as part of an omnibus spending bill by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is often mentioned in speculation about Republican presidential tickets.
The new project will give couples an "offramp" if they find themselves on the road to divorce, by offering on a voluntary basis short-term coaching to help the husband and wife decide whether they really want to split. If a couple decides to rebuild the marriage, the project will help craft a reconciliation plan.
Pro-family advocates contend that the current court system assumes its role is to facilitate divorce, not to reconcile couples.
"The judicial system tends to increase conflict, not decrease it," said state Sen. Steve Dille, lead sponsor of the law.
But not all couples who file for divorce actually want to break up, said Mr. Dille, a Republican who helped pass several pro-marriage laws during his 24 years in the Minnesota Legislature.
William J. Doherty, a family studies professor at the University of Minnesota, surveyed about 2,500 couples who had attended a mandatory divorce education class in Hennepin County during 2008 and 2009.
In about 30 percent of cases, one spouse said they wanted the divorce while the other did not, and in about 10 percent, "both partners were open to trying again" to save their marriage, Mr. Dille said.
That 10 percent is a substantial number — about 1,500 couples a year statewide, Mr. Dille said. Divorce may certainly be the best choice for some couples, he added, but for others — if they knew more about divorce and its aftermath, "they might want to find an alternate path."