Florida is home to the nation's third-highest divorce rate. This alone is not a happy fact. But perhaps more disturbing are the large-scale side effects of marital discord. There is deep psychological and economic fallout. According to the Times-Union, Florida's divorce rate contributes to its status as one of the "most stressed states in the country." Children of divorce are prone to emotional disorders and developmental delays. By some estimates, divorces cost Florida taxpayers upwards of $2 billion each year.
In light of this, a number of counties throughout the state--including Duval County--are offering free courses to help couples strengthen their relationships. Indeed, we're getting federal funding to do so; one initiative, spearheaded by the University of Florida, has received a $5 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This would seem to underscore the federal government's recognition that divorce, in many ways, resembles a pandemic disease.
The question, though, is whether programs to stave off divorce can work, or if they might serve to exacerbate spouses' issues.
The SMART initiative
The University of Florida initiative has received a fair amount of media attention of late. Known as Strengthening Marriages and Relationships Training, or SMART, its aim is to "provide relationship skills, tools, and resources for traditional and non-traditional couples" in order to help them reinforce their bonds.
Couples meet face-to-face with a counselor for a weekly session lasting two-and-a-half hours, and discuss how to address disagreements, plan for the future, and raise children, among other concerns.
Feedback from both couples and facilitators has been positive. As one participant put it, the program "made me acknowledge things I need to work on within myself [and] made me value the importance of my relationship." It would seem these are important developments for any marriage.
Will it always work?
The benefits of staying together are always worth considering. And, as most everyone knows, relationships take work. But some couples--and some spouses individually--are resistant to counseling and other courses of reconciliation. And there are marriages that simply can't be saved.
Even in these cases, spouses can take steps to prevent financial and personal anxieties from escalating. Namely, by working with a qualified and experience attorney, it is possible to end one's marriage while also preserving one's interests and the interests of one's children.
For more information about SMART and the resources offered, please visit http://smartcouples.ifas.ufl.edu/classesevents/duval/, or contact the Law Office of Beth M. Terry, P.A., www.bethmterrypa.com.