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House approves a bill changing marriage rules

Couples would have to wait three days to get hitched unless they take a four-hour marriage preparation class under a bill the House passed Thursday.

"It's a cooling-off period," said Rep. Elaine Bloom, a Miami Beach Democrat and one of the bill's sponsors.

Under the bill, couples who take the marriage-prep course could get married immediately after getting a license _ and would get a $32 break on the license fee, which ranges from $82 to $200 around Florida.

The state's not going to lose that money if the legislation becomes law. The $32.50 would be added to the fee couples have to pay to get divorced.

Divorce would cost more time as well as money for couples with children under the bill: They'd have to take a four-hour Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course.

Judges could waive both the marriage-preparation and parent education requirements for good cause.

The legislation cleared the House on a 91-21 vote and moved to the Senate, which passed a different version Wednesday.

Rep. Steven Effman, D-Sunrise, called the marriage preparation requirements a turning point for Florida, saying it was limiting what had been an unfettered right.

But Bloom said Effman was apparently too young to remember that couples used to have to wait three days before getting married, and had to be tested for syphilis.

She pointed out that there are five divorces in Florida for every 10 marriages and suggested the changes could help more couples stay together. She also said it would be easy for couples to bypass the course requirements.

The bill is a way of trying to alleviate suffering, Bloom said.

"But it is also a way of _ to be very blunt about it _ to save money," she said, adding that society picks up the tab when marriage breakups land women on welfare and affect children's ability to learn in school.

Lawmakers added to the marriage bill another piece of legislation that the House passed Monday dealing with child abuse.

That language is necessary to bring Florida into compliance with a 1997 federal law that requires states to make the health and safety of children the paramount concern in deciding abuse cases.

If the state does not comply with the federal law, it will lose $129-million in federal money for foster care services.

The child-abuse legislation had required that police officers, hospital staff and abuse case workers get permission from a judge before taking a child they fear is in danger into protective custody. But that section was changed to closely mirror existing law.

Currently, authorities are supposed to get a court order before taking a child. That requirement, however, is waived in certain cases, including imminent danger. Case workers then have to get a court order to confirm the removal within 24 hours.

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