Couple Counseling News

Liz Mandarano

Family and Matrimonial Lawyer

Posted: January 27, 2011 12:05 PM

Earlier this month, Nebraska State Senator Tony Fulton (R) introduced a bill that would give judges the option to send married couples with minor children to marriage counseling before granting a divorce and require marriage counseling in divorce actions where no minor children are involved and where one spouse believes the marriage should be saved.

And in Wyoming, incoming House Speaker Ed Buchanan (R) introduced a bill requiring any couple who wanted to marry to attend three hours of premarital counseling. If couples fail to get the required counseling, they must wait a full year to get a marriage license. Additionally, the Wyoming bill requires couples seeking a divorce to attend three hours of counseling or wait a full year to file. Notably, the bill requires that couples pay for the counseling themselves.

Both politicians have stated that the purpose of the proposed bills is to lower divorce rates. According to the Census Bureau, Wyoming has the fifth highest per capita divorce rate. Nebraska is in the middle of the pack .*

Interestingly, even accounting for lower marriage rates per capita, Wyoming has lowered its divorce rate over the past decade and Nebraska's has remained statistically the same. Given this fact, why the sudden attempt by these states to mandate pre-divorce counseling?

Recent attempts to do so have failed. In 2009, Texas rejected a bill proposed by Rep. Warren Chisum (R) that would have required every person with a minor child who files for divorce to complete 10 hours of mandatory divorce counseling. Likewise, in 2008, Oklahoma rejected a bill proposed by the Rep. Mark McCullough (R) that would have required couples to visit a therapist or a faith-based counselor before seeking to end their marriage and another to eliminate incompatibility as grounds for divorce if the couple has children or has been married 10 years or more.

In 2010, Rep. McCullough also proposed a bill that was ultimately rejected that would have in part required pre-divorce counseling for troubled marriages and created "covenant marriages" with stricter standards for divorce, similar to those existing in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama**.

The recent flurry of proposed legislation raises many questions. First, why now? The marriage to divorce per capita rate has not increased over the past decade. Not that the current divorce rate is anything to brag about, it has significantly decreased since the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps a better use of our legislators' time is to examine the reason(s) for this development to see what has helped to lower the rates over the past decades before trying to push through any bills.

Second, why have legislators chosen to usurp decision-making traditionally handled by state court judges? Pre-divorce counseling is often ordered by individual judges within their discretion prior to dissolving a marriage. Arguably, judges handling specific matters are better suited to determine whether a couple may benefit from therapy, irrespective of whether it is focused on trying to save a viable marriage or ease the path for a more peaceful dissolution. Likewise, family courts and staff are in a better position to advise the parties of available resources.

Similarly, therapists are skeptical about the mandates as proposed. Rebecca Alexander, a New York City-based therapist, believes that counseling could be very beneficial. But if couples are intending or encouraged to stay together, a few hours of therapy is simply not enough time to make effective progress. She also points out that many fee-for-service therapists set specific amounts of time that they are going to work with people when the work is goal-oriented (e.g., saving a marriage).

Third, who will pay for this therapy? Ms. Alexander also expresses concern regarding insurance coverage and the fact that only the wealthy may be able to seek their therapists who are able to sign off on the mandated counseling.

Fourth, is this even constitutional? Critics point out that the proposed bills impede on individual constitutional rights by creating obstacles to ending a marriage. For example, so far, Wyoming proposes that the couples pay. However, forty years ago the Supreme Court struck down a state law that mandated divorce filing fees because indigent people could not afford it***. Given this well-established precedence, even today's more conservative Supreme Court would be hard pressed to rule the current proposed language constitutional.

And even if Wyoming and Nebraska amend their bills to pass with state-supported counseling, where will they find the funds? Both states have suffered from the economic downturn in recent years, and both have had to cut spending, and their newly elected legislative bodies have promised to continue the trend.

Which leads to the last question- why are Republicans, who claim to want less government spending and interference, trying to increase both? Nebraska's Sen. Fulton recently stated that he "identifies" with the principles of the Tea Party movement, including "limited government and individual responsibility."**** And Wyoming's Speaker Buchanan has expressed satisfaction over the large Tea Party movement in his State, which now has the most lopsided one-party domination of any Legislature in the country- a 26-4 Republican to Democrat ratio in its Senate and a 50-10 one in its House.*****

Instead of forcing couples to go through pre-divorce counseling, why not look into why less people are getting married? Why not focus on how to make married people happier as opposed to divorce harder?

Recent studies have shown that marriage is becoming an option more and more only for the wealthy. The well-reviewed Fall, 2010 Pew Center Research study examined the matter and found that the marriage gap and socioeconomic gap may be "feeding off of each other."

Marriage savers through the years

Marriage savers through the years

By Harris Murray, T&D Columnist The Times and Democrat | Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2011

When we said, "I do" and "I will," my husband and I had absolutely no clue what lay ahead in our marital path. We thought we understood the words; we thought we understood the seriousness of the commitments we were making. We thought we knew ourselves better than the minister who provided marital counseling.

I was watching a brief clip on a television show recently. An engaged couple visited a minister for counseling prior to the wedding. The female was doing this to please her mother. The male was doing this to please his fiancée. The conversation between the minister and the couple was revealing.

The couple agreed on nothing and the bride's opinion carried the day. It was sad to watch, and it was funny to watch. It reminded me of me when I thought I knew it all. No real need for counseling. We'll just do it my way, and we'll be fine.

Through the years, several things have saved my marriage from the brink of disaster.

In the early years, what saved my marriage was realizing that I was no longer "in love." You know that feeling in your gut that bubbles up every time you see your future partner in life? It fizzled within the first year of marriage. The stunning realization that loving someone and being married to them are two entirely different things hit like a ton of bricks.

What saved the marriage then was the realization that I had not promised to be "in love" for the rest of my life but to "love," which often involves a sacrifice of self that is far more demanding that I ever realized.

Four years into my marriage, two unexpected journeys challenged my husband and me to either commit to our marriage or let bygones be bygones. First, cancer struck my husband. Surgery, radiation and all the fears and anxieties that accompany those events tried to paralyze us. We drew together and refused to buckle under. Second, my parents ended their 35-year marriage, shaking the foundations of my own upbringing. The anger and frustrations that accompanied that event threatened my own marriage. Hard work, deep introspection and learning to forgive, over and over again, helped us work through the difficult years ahead.

Six years into our marriage, we had our daughter. Now, nothing threatens a marriage like children. They are demanding, exhausting, frustrating and totally self-centered. Where was the time we used to spend as a couple? Again, we dug in our heels and worked at carving out time for ourselves. We hired baby-sitters as early as three weeks after her birth. We got used to hiring baby-sitters and, when she would ask, "Can't y'all go out so I can have a baby-sitter?" we really began to enjoy our couple time.

Now, fast forward decades later. What saves our marriage after 31 years? The challenge is greater than anything we've ever faced. We were at a turning point in our marriage.

Hearing loss or change runs in my husband's family. He's not losing his hearing, but he has increased difficulty hearing high-pitched voices ... like mine. Retired now, when he's home watching television, he can turn the volume up as loudly as he desires.

When I come home, however, my extremely sensitive ears, which can pick up noises my husband can't even hear, rebelled at the decibels blasting in the den. Something had to change, or I would be out of there!

One Christmas present later, and all is well. If you want to save your marriage when the television volume threatens to destroy it, buy a set of TV Ears! My husband places two receivers in his ears and hears at the volume he desires. I can sit in silence or have the volume at a level acceptable to me.

Nine major money mistakes that can derail your marriage

By Shelly K. Schwartz,

Updated 1d 18h ago

In the throes of wedding planning, it's easy to get lost in the minutia of picking table linens, rehearsal venues and the perfect song for your first dance as husband and wife.

But if you want your marriage to last, you should also make time for an open and honest heart to heart over your financial future together.

"Money is one of the top reasons why couples divorce and I think it's often because people don't know how to talk about it," says Cathy Norris, a certified financial planner with Ameriprise Financial Services in Safety Harbor, Fla. "Depending on how their own parents handled finances, some individuals might not be forthcoming or feel that they can be open with their spouse."

Whether it's your first trip down the aisle or a repeat performance, the following nine questions will help prevent some of the biggest money missteps that can derail an otherwise healthy marriage.

Is there any debt?

Level with each other about any debt you carry, be it credit card balances, student loans or car loans.

Leave nothing undisclosed.

That's important, says Dana Vince, a marriage counselor with Healing Hearts Counseling in Knoxville , Tenn., because it affects your monthly cash flow, the time it will take you to reach your financial goals and how much money you'll have left over for all those vacations you'll want to take before you have children (if that's on the agenda).

"I've come across many couples who keep that [debt] from one another because of guilt or shame, but it has the potential to cause resentment later on because the person making more money might feel it's up to them to pay down that debt," she says.

Perhaps you'll agree to apply combined disposable income towards paying it off, or you decide it's fair to let the person who incurred the debt to pay it off.

Will pre marital assets be joint?

You should also, of course, disclose your assets you.

Chances you've accumulated significant savings in your retirement and investment accounts, and potentially a little real estate.

Will pre-marital assets remain separate or be combined?

"Couples who are in love sometimes do things out of the feeling that everything should be joint," says John Johansen, a matrimonial forensic accountant and financial planner with The Planning Group for Professionals in New York City. "If they have a brokerage account or own real estate, they might want to add their spouse as a joint tenant, but that's not necessarily a good thing long term."

In the event the marriage doesn't make it, it's best to keep pre-marital assets separate and co-mingle any new assets accumulated as a couple, says Johansen.

You may also wish to keep separate any inheritance or monetary gifts you receive during your marriage, he says.

"It doesn't mean that you're planning for divorce," says Johansen. "It's about full disclosure and honesty, which is what you want in a healthy marriage."

Will you have children?

You've no doubt discussed parenthood, maybe even identified names for the children, but don't forget to discuss what will happen to your cash flow.

Children are expensive and are likely to dominate your disposable income and eat into your nest egg, especially if one of you stops working to raise them.

That needs to be planned for so you don't spend more on a house, car or other fixed expenses than you can afford on one income.

"Couples don't always think about that because it seems so far down the road, but you should come to some agreement over what will happen when kids come into the picture," says Vince.

Who will pay the bills?

In most marriages, the job of paying monthly bills falls to one person, usually the person with better fiscal discipline.

While that makes sense logistically, Vince says both parties should still participate in creating a monthly budget, and both should know how to pay the bills, if necessary.

If you're equally adept at money management, consider having one party handle the monthly bills, and the other long-term finances, such as retirement and college savings.

Will you keep separate accounts?

Just because you're sharing a roof, of course, does not mean you have to merge your bank accounts.

Learn your fiancé's expectations and suggest a system that works for you.

While it may seem easier to simply combine accounts, many marriage counselors recommend keeping a joint account for shared expenses, such as housing, utilities and groceries, and separate ones for fun money—the "you, me we" system of banking.

Thus you can splurge now and then on frivolous things that need not be justified to your spouse, and no one is forced to "ask permission."

If you opt for a single account, of course, you can still build in flexibility by agreeing to a threshold (say, $200) for expenses that require spousal approval prior to purchase.

What's your score?

There is also the matter of credit history.

Your credit score, which tells lenders how likely you are to pay back the money you borrow based on prior payment patterns, is important because it dictates whether you will qualify for things like car and home loans and the interest rates you'll pay.

By law, you are each entitled to a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies, Equifax , Experian and TransUnion .

"You might discover that your fiancé has a lower score due to a health issue that maybe wasn't shared yet, or ability to keep on top of their finances," says Norris.

If one of you has a shoddy payment history, the other may decide to keep their finances separate to avoid inheriting their partner's credit problems.

Who's a saver or spender?

You may already know the answer to this question, having observed you future spouse, but ask him or her for a spending philosophy.

If a saver, ask why that's important to them.

Perhaps her parents were always in debt and she wants to avoid the same fate.

Or maybe he sacrificed luxuries for many years, by putting himself through college and saving for a house, and now want to indulge in a less conservative lifestyle.

Be prepared, of course, to discuss your own financial philosophy as well, which will help you better appreciate the boundaries you bring to your marriage.

What's your risk tolerance?

The old adage that opposites attract is as true with personality types as it is with investment styles.

Rare is the couple that agrees entirely on asset allocation for retirement accounts.

Those on the conservative side might prefer dividend-paying, blue-chip stocks that typically produce a steady return, but slow growth.

Aggressive investors, meanwhile, might be willing to roll the dice on start-ups, tech firms and energy stocks that are more volatile, but hold the potential for hefty returns.

Find out the risk tolerance of your other half, be honest your own, and develop a plan for investing joint assets.

"There's typically one person who ends up taking on that responsibility [of investment planning], but they might invest more aggressively than the other person is comfortable with," says Norris. "Or, they might be too conservative so the other spouse ends up squirreling money away secretly to go off and blow it on gambling."

What are your goals?

You should also share your financial priorities, and set goals to achieve them.

Do you wish to purchase a home, retire by 55, buy a boat?

For any agreed goals, you should start saving a percentage of your monthly income in a separate account.

You can also agree to funnel any "new money" (year-end bonuses, for instance) into the account for a fixed period of time to help you get there faster.

If your goals diverge, however, it's time to start compromising.

Ask your soon-to-be spouse to rank his priorities in order of importance and you do the same.

Next, decide which are attainable, which need to be downsized and which should be cast aside.

All of this, this does not guarantee that you will avoid arguing over money matters altogether. Most couples do.

They will, however, head off some potential problems.

And above all else, they'll help to establish the foundation of mutual trust necessary for your relationship to thrive.

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