State imposes 'premarital training tax' on Tennessee couples

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Do Tennessee couples need counseling before they tie the knot?
   The state General Assembly has decided that they do.
   A new law passed by the Assembly this session imposes a $62.50 fee for couples seeking to get hitched unless they are non-Tennessee residents or can show documented proof they have completed a four-hour "marriage preparation course."
   A $60 fee -- dubbed the "premarital training tax" -- is charged to any Tennessee couple without a course completion certificate.
   The law also appropriates an additional $2.50 fee to be paid to each county clerk's office for their services.
   The fees are added on top of existing marriage license fees in each county.
   The new charges will raise the cost of a marriage license in Carter County from $29.50 to $92 for Tennessee residents who do not present a training course certificate, according to County Clerk Mary Gouge.
   Rep. Bob Patton, R-Johnson City, sponsored the bill and said in a released statement that the law's goal was to lower the state's divorce rate and "build stronger marriages."
   "The new law provides a financial incentive for couples who are marrying to take a premarital preparation course at their church, synagogue, or community center or from a professional that addresses communication skills, conflict resolution, children and parenting responsibilities," said Patton in the release.
   The marital preparation course may be conducted and approved by a psychologist, marital therapist, professional counselor, minister, or a clinical social worker. The certification form requires verification of the course provider and the provider's signature.
   The course's cost to couples would vary based on the professional who conducted the course, according to the law.
   The law reads that if the parties take separate classes, separate certificates must be filed.
   The counties pay the $60 fee to the State Treasurer to fund a variety of human service agencies related to domestic violence, children's advocacy and social services.
   Tennessee averages 33,000 divorces per year -- the second highest divorce rate in the nation behind Nevada, according to U.S. Census data compiled in 2000.
   According to the Census report released in June, 12.2 percent of all Carter County marriages ended in divorce in 2000 while approximately 13.8 percent of marriages in Johnson County ended in divorce in 2000.
   Johnson County had the state's second highest percentage of divorces, while Carter County ranked 16th out of the state's 95 counties.