In Georgia, couples that are going through a divorce and have children are required to attend a parenting seminar aimed at helping them work together for the benefit of their children. The class is not an attempt to save the marriage in any way but, rather, just gives the parents advice for navigating their post-divorce life as it relates to their kids. Oklahoma has taken this one step further by passing a law which “mandates that married couples who have children under 18 must complete an educational program before divorcing.” Oklahoma’s New Divorce Law: Can Forced Marriage Counseling Work?, by The Romance Code, yourtango.com. In addition to forcing marriage counseling onto divorcing parents, the law further requires that the parents pay for the counseling.
There are several issues with this new law. First, the cost of the counseling may be prohibitive for some parents, forcing them to stay married because they simply cannot afford to comply with the law. In this situation, the couple will be miserable, as will any children living with them who have to endure fighting, yelling, etc. Second, consider a couple that is getting divorced because of abuse. The government is essentially forcing victims to sit next to their abusers in an attempt to “save their marriage.” Finally, for counseling to be effective, the parties must go willingly. While some couples may be open to counseling, many likely will not be. Most people who have filed for divorce have resigned to the fact that their marriage is ending. Similar to a drug addict being forced to go to rehab, a spouse forced against his/her will to go to marriage counseling likely will not have success.
This is not to say that marriage counseling is bad. On the contrary, in the right situation, it can certainly help to save a marriage if both parties are willing to work at it. Forcing unwilling parties to go through it, however, is unlikely to work – the marriage won’t get better if both parties do not choose to work to make it better.