New UF Course Aimed At Reducing Florida’s Divorce Rate

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Millie Ferrer, (352) 392-7087
Donna Peacock, (352) 754-4433

GAINESVILLE – With the Sunshine State having one of the highest divorce rates in the nation, University of Florida researchers have developed a class they say will give the newly betrothed the foundation they need to stay hitched.

“Before You Tie the Knot” differs from some religion-based pre-marriage classes because it focuses on skills they will need in marriage after the honeymoon, said Mille Ferrer, a human development specialist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who helped develop the two-day course.

“Some people don’t want to get married at a church, they want to go to the courthouse,” said Ferrer, an associate professor in the department of family, youth and community sciences. “Plus, the courses offered at churches tend to be more spiritual in nature and do not necessarily address all the topics our curriculum includes.”

The free course also could be a more affordable option for some couples, with private therapists charging as much as $300 for pre-marital sessions, she said.

Ferrer said state officials hope to reduce Florida’s divorce rate by encouraging couples to complete pre-marital courses such as “Before You Tie The Knot.” Florida’s Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act, passed in 1998, provides couples who complete an approved marriage preparation course a discount on marriage license fees and a waiver of the three-day waiting period, she said.

For 1998, the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics reported 80,466 divorces, or about 5.3 divorces per 1,000 couples. By comparison, the national rate that year was 3.5 divorces per 1,000 couples. In 1994, the most recent statistics available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics ranked Florida’s divorce rate as the 10th highest in the nation.

Ferrer said “Before You Tie The Knot” uses a series of interactive, hands-on games and activities to provide couples with information and instruction on several topics, including parenting, conflict resolution, communication skills and financial planning.

One activity popular with couples taking the course is the “yes/no game,” said Hernando County extension agent Donna Peacock, one of the course’s developers. The facilitator asks a question or makes a statement, for example “the husband should handle all the family’s finances.” The couples hold up cards to indicate whether they agree with the statement.

“Often, the couples will disagree, indicating that this is a topic that they haven’t fully discussed,” said Peacock. “The couples can then go home and explore these areas more completely.”

Peacock said she enjoyed working with couples who ranged from young first-timers to an elderly couple preparing for what will be a second marriage for both of them.

“This is a fun curriculum to teach because you get to work with such a good group of people,” said Peacock. “They’re positive, they’re in love and their expectations for the future are great.

“It’s a teachable moment because engaged couples really want their marriages to succeed,” she said.

Kimberly Ott and David Brooks recently completely Peacock’s class in Hernando County. Ott said the course has shown the young couple ways to improve their relationship.

“We learned more about communicating with each other,” Ott said. “Sometimes we’ll interrupt each other, but now we’ve learned to relax a bit and let the other person finish before stepping in.”

Ferrer said extension agents in Hernando, Suwannee, Taylor and Madison counties recently taught the course as part of a pilot project. “Before You Tie The Knot” will be made available statewide, she said.

“If a need for the program is identified in a county, it will be up to the extension agent to make the necessary arrangements with the local circuit court to be approved as a provider,” Ferrer said.

The act gives local circuit courts the authority to determine which agencies can provide marriage preparation courses, she said.

Ferrer said couples interested in “Before You Tie The Knot” should contact their local extension office to see if the course is going to be offered in their county.