SALT LAKE CITY — Drugs and broken homes will fill the new prison under construction with inmates, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, told a House committee this week as he proposed a plan to combat the rate of divorce in Utah.
SB54, which has already passed the Senate, would incentivize engaged couples to take a premarital counseling class before they tie the knot.
The bill increases the marriage license fee $20 and waives the extra amount if a couple proves they have taken the courses, though that would only apply to counties that operate online marriage license application systems.
The Utah Marriage Commission, which answers directly to the Utah Department of Human Services, hosts the classes, which can be found on its website, strongermarriage.org. Couples who refuse to attend the class will pay the fee.
According to the Utah Marriage Commission, there are typically 23,000 marriages in Utah a year, and 10,000 of them will end — with more than 50 percent of those situations involving children. Divorce and unmarried childbearing costs Utah taxpayers at least $276 million a year in public services, the commission reported.
"You've got Medicaid, domestic violence, foster care, divorce courts, attorneys fees— they drain the budget," said Christensen, who oversees the Legislature's social services budget. "The cost to human life, though, to lives is so very, very much higher."
"We know that many divorces come from marriages that begin with significant problems and doubts during the engagement period," said Paul Schvaneveldt, a Weber State University professor of family studies who also sits on the Utah Marriage Commission.
Schvaneveldt said Christensen's bill could save Utah more than $2 million a year by decreasing divorces.
The House Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee voted 7-2 Monday to send the bill to the full House for consideration.