Bill that would raise marriage license cost dies in legislature

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A Utah couple celebrates after their marriage in front of the Salt Lake City Temple. A Utah bill concerning the price of marriage licenses didn’t make it through committee. (Lindsey Orton)

A Utah bill that would have increased fees for marriage licenses failed to pass through committee.

SB29 would have increased the marriage license fee by $20 “to support marriage and relationship strengthening efforts in the state,” according to the bill. Couples that could provide proof they completed a pre-marital education course would receive a $20 rebate.

The bill has surfaced in various forms since 2003, but has never made it this far in the legislative process.

“Our primary hope is that we will be able to increase the number of engaged couples in Utah who will invest in serious premarital education to help them get off to a strong start in their marriage,” said Utah Marriage Commission Chair and BYU family life professor Alan Hawkins.

About 35 percent of engaged couples currently invest in pre-marital education, according to Hawkins.

In order to be eligible for the rebate, couples would have been required to attend a class that spends at least six hours covering four topics: commitment in marriage, providing a safe and nurturing environment for children, communication and problem-solving skills and financial management skills.

The Utah Marriage Commission offers approved classes, but other classes that meet the criteria would be able to receive approval under the bill.

Shannon Ellsworth, 27, will begin her master’s in business administration entrepreneurship at BYU in the fall. Ellsworth said the bill, while well-intended, is government over-regulation.

“My parents are divorced,” Ellsworth said. “I don’t think this legislation can change behavior in six hours.”

BYU family life professor Angela Bradford said these premarital classes don’t have a large effect, but they are helpful.

“They (the couples) might not have all the info that can help them start out strong,” Bradford said.

Hawkins said Utah has a vested interest in improving marriages because the state is estimated to spend over $200 million a year on services such as divorce courts and child services when couples divorce.

“The reality is that the state pays a pretty high cost when marriages fall apart,” Hawkins said.

In response to complaints of government over-regulation, Hawkins said the state becomes heavily involved in personal lives once a marriage falls apart.

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