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Marriage guidance courses pay for themselves 11 times over, government study concludes

This just in from the Department of the Should Be Obvious: marriage guidance courses cut divorce and save society millions.

In a government-funded study, researchers from the Tavistock Institute examined the effectiveness of different types of marriage and relationship guidance. They looked at courses run by Relate, Care for the Family, and the Roman Catholic organisation Marriage Care.

The courses included, the Telegraph reports, pre-marriage sessions, education sessions for couples in relationships, and special counselling for couples in difficulty.

Participants were interviewed some months after completing the courses. All said they had tried to change their behaviour and now worked harder to communicate with their spouses.

The most effective courses were the marriage preparation course run by Marriage Care and the crisis counselling provided by Relate. They concluded that for every £1 spent on the Relate course, society would save £11.50 in funds that would otherwise have spent to deal with the effects of marriage break-up –  benefits for single families, additional housing and health needs, court costs, and so forth. For every £1 spent on the Relate course, society would save £11.40.

The researchers have now called on the government to heavily promote such courses in registry offices and elsewhere, even suggesting a discount on marriage fees for couples who undergo such courses.

The research was hailed by Ruth Sutherland, the Chief Executive of Relate.

“Given that relationship breakdown is estimated to cost the UK economy tens of billions each year, it is clear that future investment in relationship support services will continue to bring very real financial and social benefits.”

The paper also quotes Conservative MP Andrew Selous, who endorsed claims that marriage guidance could save society millions.

“I think that is absolutely the case – if you look at the increased benefits bill in terms of supporting single parents; if you look at the extra housing for individuals when coupes separate; if you look at educational underachievement or if you look at the youth justice system – the Youth Justice Board says that 70 per cent of young people in custody have an absent father. There is a whole host of Government budgets you could go through and say that these costs would be less if you have more stable families.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. I am not sure I can entirely endorse the monetisation of divorce and separation statistics – we are, after all, talking about real lives here and real human heartache, not spreadsheets and profit and loss calculations. But if assigning a monetary value to the sundering of relationships motivates the moneymen in government to take constructive action, then I am all for that.

Every so often we see articles in the newspaper or hear stories on the radio lamenting the supposed ease of divorce. It’s too easy to pack it in, claim the pundits, too easy to split up and apply for that decree nisi, condemning your children to life in a single parent family and a diminished or damaged relationship with the other parent. People took the whole thing much more seriously back in the old days!

Divorce is still a serious business. There was never a golden age. Making divorce possible for most of us in a way it never used to be is an act of mercy, allowing the genuinely unhappy to start afresh and escape the burdens of a bad relationship. Of course, part of that deal must be treating your former spouse fairly – letting them see the children, dividing your assets equitably.

Perhaps, rather than worrying whether we don’t take divorce sufficiently seriously these days, we should be asking ourselves whether we take the decision to get married in the first place seriously enough. Way back in 1992, I wrote a book called Divorce A New Beginning. The very first chapter was called Shouldn’t Marriage Be More Difficult? I have not changed my views in the decades since. Marriage is not – or should not be – a casual undertaking. It takes real effort to make it work. If marriage guidance courses – either before or after the big day –open a few eyes and encourage people to think a little more carefully about the partner’s perspectives  and their marital commitments, then I say hurray. The end result will be fewer divorces, fewer broken hearts, and most importantly of all, fewer unhappy children.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. JamesB says:

    My advice, listen to your partner, whether they be male or female, animal, vegetable, or mineral, no one likes to be ignored and will not like you if you do not.

  2. Luke says:

    I agree with you Marilyn ( I bet you’re shocked 🙂 ), Marriage Guidance courses before getting married – explaining what marriage actually means and help on how to communicate – should be standard.

    If they were then perhaps people would not be so bitter and angry when they divorce, because they won’t feel that they have been blindsided when they find out what they have let themselves in for.

  3. Tristan says:

    A timely and very helpful article.

  4. Kathryn Ashworth says:

    So pleased you picked up on this report. It is of course difficult to put monetary value on relationships but our clients tell us the real diffence our service makes. Worth pointing out though that we don’t have the agenda of keeping people together, but we help people to find the right way forward amicably, whilst keeping any children right at the forefront of everything.

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