In July, the Federal Government’s pilot ‘relationship voucher scheme’ comes into effect. The trial period has budgeted for 100,000 couples to receive a $200 voucher towards the cost of a relationship education class run by approved providers. One has to ask: Why, with so many cutbacks in the budget, would the government initiate a $20 million program focused on strengthening marriage and family life?
Divorce isn’t cheap
Kevin Andrews MP, the minister for Social Services is well versed in the value of marriage education. Together with his wife Margaret they are one of Australia’s pioneers in the field. His recent book “Maybe ‘I Do’” sets him apart as arguably the most well informed of the marriage research in the country.
As the Minister for Social Services overseeing a $140 billion annual budget, it is safe to say that he knows more than most the cost of marriage breakdown in the Australian community. It is estimated that a typical divorce costs the government in excess of $60,000*; made up of court costs and social welfare support (of which single parents are major recipients). The figure doesn’t include the cost to the individual family or their employer who will carry the burden of increased sick leave and lower productivity – both of which are well documented in the research.
Nor does it count the cost to their children who will move into a higher risk group for depression, anxiety, poor school performance, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse and, according to the research, can carry the negative impact of a parents divorce well into their adult lives.
The obvious question is: will marriage and relationship education help?
Marriage education is different to marriage counselling which tends to be sought in the terminal stages of a relationship. In marriage education the emphasis is on prevention; teach couples some healthy relationship skills and they can more intelligently and consciously manage their marriage. Just like cooking is natural and most of us can do the basics, if you want to be an expert you need to get some training. These days, while some marriages can survive without ongoing education, many won’t. Time set aside as a couple in a well-designed program gives couples skills and insights that build relational resilience and that helps their marriage thrive.
Marriage Education is not about making couples stay in dysfunctional or dangerous relationships. It’s about helping spouses to mature and up-skill so that they can create the marriage for which they long. Like any kind of professional development, it’s often the difference between a struggling marriage and a thriving one.
Here’s the investment proposition at the macro-level; if a typical divorce costs the taxpayer $60,000 then only 350 couples out of the 100,000 taking up this trial need to avoid a divorce for this to be good for all of us. While a little over simplified, the potential for this trial is compelling. And at the mirco-level, we are saying to anyone who will listen: “get off the couch and do something for you marriage together”. It can’t hurt and it’s never been cheaper!
* To have and to hold – Parliamentary Inquiry 1998 http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=/laca/inquiryinfam.htm