In comparison, only $600 million in federal funds were used to bolster healthy marriage initiatives — just 0.06 percent.
"This is one area where we could actually prevent problems, rather than just trying to help them out when the problems arise," Hawkins says. "At some point you have to try and build fences at the top of the hill, rather than buy more ambulances at the bottom of the hill."
Hawkins has studied various marriage education programs across the country and is encouraged by what he says are small, but positive, and encouraging results.
In the "Building Strong Families" review site in Oklahoma, couples who received the program were 20 percent more likely to be together after three years than those who didn't.
In Hamilton County, Baumgardner said they already know of eight men who took their prison fathering class and have been released, landed a job and are active in their kids' lives.
On a global scale, these changes may seem small, but they matter dramatically in the lives of these people's children, and they save the state and federal governemnts thousands of dollars in avoided problems.
"This is a pay me now or pay me later kind of thing," Baumgardner says. "If we are all about the next generation and the future of our children, if we do not do something on the prevention side, we are going to be in some very serious trouble."
Bill Coffin is quick to agree. A former special assistant for marriage education in the federal Administration for Children and Families for nine years, he knows the national impact of fragmented families, yet he's encouraged by the preliminary reviews of marriage and relationship education programs, which he hopes continue to grow.
"(Sometimes) I feel guilty because there are couples starting off who are going to have problems, some of whom are going to end up divorced, separated, in therapy. And they could say, 'If some folks knew what … healthy relationships were all about, why didn't they tell us?'"
Some people may not speak up because they worry that by promoting strong marriages and two-parent families, they — as a divorced person — will seem hypocritical. Yet, Gersten says these individuals may actually be able to better drive home the severity of the issue.
"We have to find a vehicle where a divorced congressman or divorced governor can say, 'I'm for protecting children," he said. "This legislation (or class) is significant and maybe if this had been around when I got divorced, maybe it could have saved my marriage."
But it still doesn't make the discussion easy, says Carrie Gordon Earll, Senior Director of Issue Analysis for CitizenLink, the policy arm of Focus on the Family.
While everyone recognizes the pain of broken families and fatherless homes, everyone also knows someone who's been divorced and they don't want to offend or hurt feelings.
"One of the hurdles will be to get people to see when you're talking about divorce reform, we are not talking about preventing people who are in really bad, dangerous marriages from still being able to protect themselves," she continued. "What we're talking about is raising the bar so that couples know their marriage is worth fighting for."
* Federal Healthy Marriage Initiative - www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage/about/mission.html
* Coalition for Divorce Reform - divorcereform.us
* Americans For Divorce Reform - www.divorcereform.org/
* Second Chances Act - www.americanvalues.org/bookstore/pub.php?pub=83
* Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project - www.cehd.umn.edu/fsos/projects/mcb/default.asp
* Retrovaille - http://www.retrouvaille.org/
* PREP - https://www.prepinc.com/default.aspx
* Love Thinks - www.lovethinks.com/
* NARME - www.narmeconference.com/
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