Programme to help young couples stay married

Those aged 18-24 exhorted to attend scheme, pre-marriage segment is mandatory where at least one party is under 21


With people who marry young much likelier to divorce, an intensive programme of one-on-one sessions and workshops will be rolled out to help young couples stay together.

Couples aged 18 to 24 will be encouraged to go for the Early Marriage Support programme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), even before they exchange rings and say "I do".

The pre-marriage part of the programme, which is 20 hours long, is compulsory for couples in civil marriages where at least one party is under 21. They have to complete it before they can register their marriage, an MSF spokesman told The Straits Times.

The programme includes a 16-hour marriage education workshop before nuptials and four peer support group sessions during their first year of marriage.

The MSF held a tender, which closed on Thursday, for service providers to run the programme.

This move comes as a study found that the divorce rate for couples where the groom is below 25 was "very high" compared with older grooms, the spokesman said.

The MSF's 2015 marriage cohort dissolution study found that for all marriages registered in Singapore in 2008, 12.4 per cent of grooms aged 20 to 24 ended their marriage before their fifth wedding anniversary. This is double the 6 per cent for grooms who were 25 to 29 when they wed.

In February last year, the MSF amended the Women's Charter, making it mandatory for couples in civil marriages where at least one party is below 21 to attend a marriage preparation programme. This applies to couples where at least one party is a Singapore citizen or a permanent resident.

The post-marriage segment of the new programme is optional for such couples.

For couples with at least one party aged 21 to 24, the new programme is not compulsory, but the MSF encourages them to attend.

The Straits Times understands that the programme is targeted at couples in civil marriages. There are already similar marriage programmes for young Muslim couples, the MSF spokesman said.

Couples who attend this pilot programme and take part in a study to assess its effectiveness can get shopping vouchers.

Counsellors said that one key reason behind the high divorce rates among young couples is that they are often not prepared for marriage and parenthood.

Many rush into marriage as the woman is pregnant, even though they may not be working and able to support a family.

Even for those not in shotgun marriages, many could not afford a flat or face money woes as they are just starting out at work. So they have to live with their in-laws, which could be a source of tension.

They also face other challenges common to couples of all ages, such as adjusting to married life and parenting responsibilities.

That is why marriage preparation is crucial to help them learn to budget, manage their roles and responsibilities and handle conflicts, among other things, counsellors say.

Ms Madelin Tay, a counsellor at Fei Yue Community Services, said: "Young couples are more driven by their emotions. But feelings change. So we have to help them learn how to sustain (their marriage) when they face challenges."

Counsellors say the post-marriage component in the new programme is important.

It allows couples who are married to find support and advice from counsellors and other couples in similar situations, said Touch Family Services senior director Edmund Wong.

But the challenge will be to attract young couples for whom the programme is not compulsory.

Mr Wong said: "They might not be keen or may find it a challenge to make time for it due to their busy schedules."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline Programme to help young couples stay married. Subscribe