Kevin Andrews

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Kevin Andrews
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- February 28, 2014

A trial offering $200 marriage-counselling vouchers has been recommended for a permanent rollout on the grounds it will save taxpayers millions by avoiding expensive divorces.

Mounting the case for the scheme to be made permanent, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said that if the scheme could prevent just 200 divorces it would have paid for itself.

The federal voucher scheme will start as a 12-month trial involving 100,000 couples, but Mr Andrews said he had ordered that it be evaluated closely to make a case for a much wider rollout.

The program was promised during the election as part of a $20 million trial to avoid messy break-ups and prevent people entering into unsuitable marriages.

Asked if he wanted to push for it to become a permanent and larger rollout, Mr Andrews said “definitely”, citing research from Britain that evaluated a marriage-counselling program.

“It shows there’s a very significant economic case for doing this,” he said. “We will build into it an ongoing evaluation of it, so that hopefully once it’s been running for a few months we will already start getting at least preliminary indications of what worked and what didn’t.”

He told The Australian a House of Representatives report in 1998 calculated that the cost of divorce was about $6 billion a year. “I imagine it is higher than that now and that figure is consistent with studies in the USA, UK and Canada about the cost of divorce.

“So we are talking about something that costs many billions of dollars a year that – if you just do a simple calculation, about 50,000-55,000 divorces a year – that means that each divorce is costing over $100,000.

“So we would only have to prevent 200 divorces or 200 people deciding not to get married because they worked out beforehand they weren’t suitable for each other …

“This is a very modest investment in trying to tackle what is a huge cost to the community but … more significantly the huge cost in terms of personal trauma.”

Mr Andrews said criticism that the state should not intervene and pay for such schemes was short-sighted. “Every time there is a divorce that involves intervention by the state we know for example that many former partners, and it’s unfortunately more often women than men, end up much worse off as a result of divorce, many end up in poverty that affects children,” he said.

“So there are huge costs that actually flow from divorce and family breakdown which means the state is involved, so if the state’s involved at the end of this process my argument is, well, perhaps with some modest involvement earlier on with some prevention and early intervention we can actually get a better outcome.”

The minister said while the program was still being designed, couples would be able to register online to get a “voucher” to take to an approved provider. “So it will be up to the individual couple as to who they go to: now my expectation is that Relationships Australia will get a fair bit of that.”

Source: Patricia Karvelas, The Australian, February 28, 2014