UK could adopt Norway’s marriage rescue courses

Government-backed marriage rescue programmes used successfully in Norway for many years could be introduced in the UK.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said that they are “exactly the sort of thing we should be looking into”.

And ministers will be exploring whether the programmes should be voluntary or compulsory.

Study

Mr Duncan Smith has recently been studying the Norwegian state-funded education programmes, which originated in 1994.

Norway’s ministry of family affairs set up a scheme to provide grants for relationship courses, whereby couples were taught communication and conflict resolution skills.

By 2008, relationship charities and private counselling groups were receiving £600,000 worth of funding from the Norwegian government.

Success

The success of the programmes has been reflected in fewer couples divorcing and more getting married.

Mr Duncan Smith’s study follows the Every Family Matters report, released in 2009 by the Centre for Social Justice, which was run by him at the time.

The report outlined new policies to encourage marriage instead of cohabitation and urged couples considering divorce to explore the possibility of reconciliation.

Highest

Divorce rates in the UK are among the highest in Europe.

In 2009, 137,000 disputes were heard in family courts in England and Wales, costing £1.6billion and representing a 16% rise.

A Government spokesman said that there was clear evidence from Norway and elsewhere that marriage rescue programmes “can bring down levels of divorce.”

Think again

Mr Duncan Smith was impressed with the Norwegian system because it forces couples to “work through what is going to happen with their children” and “think again.”

“Too many couples break up without understanding the consequences for their families”, he said.

And a Government source said: “Apart from what happens with their children, the financial consequences of family breakdown are really significant.”

Welcomed

A spokeswoman for UK relationship support group Relate said, “Norway’s government have taken an innovative approach to relationship support and have even gone so far as to call couple relationships part of public health.

“Relate has been putting pressure on recent governments to share this view and it seems that our new government are certainly taking this issue seriously”.

And a Government source added: “We want to pull together the existing experts and charities and voluntary organisations with a proven track record in helping couples resolve their difficulties.”

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