The Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project was sparked by conversations that founder Bill Doherty had with Family Court Judge Bruce Peterson starting in 2005.  Judge Peterson had noticed that a number of couples in the divorce process seemed to be getting along well when they met with him in his chambers.  Some were even affectionate with each other.  But they all ended up divorced.  This got him wondering how many couples who start the divorce process to solve a problem in their marriage might have an interest to staying together and working on the problem.   He was concerned that the courts, in their eagerness to move couples swiftly and efficiently through the legal divorce process, might be pushing some couples who might want to pause and consider their options.

So Bill helped Judge Peterson and the court conduct a landmark study that documented a lot of what we began to call “divorce ambivalence” among spouses in the legal divorce process.  This research led to the formation of an informal think tank of Collaborative Divorce Attorneys who met with Bill for two years to come up with ways of assessing divorce ambivalence and referring couples for appropriate services.

This think tank realized that since many couples had already tried traditional couples therapy, something else was needed.  Bill described the brief informal process he had developed to help couples on the brink of divorce, and the lawyers said, “Yes, that’s what we want to refer couples to.”  Bill offered to turn this process into something more organized and the group came up with the term “discernment counseling” to describe it.

The final step was the formation of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project to train therapists, lawyers, mediators, clergy and other professionals to help couples  on the brink of divorce who want to look carefully about whether to go ahead with divorce or take a pause to decide whether to try again to work on their marriage and make it healthy again.

Key questions in the survey

  • “Even at this point, do you think your divorce could be prevented if one or both of you works hard to save the marriage?” (yes, no, or maybe).
  • “If the court offered a reconciliation service, I would seriously consider trying it” (yes, no, or maybe).

Key findings

  • Belief that marriage can still be saved: in about 12% (1 of 9) of couples both spouses believe it’s still possible (yes or maybe); in about 1/3 of couples one spouse believes it can be saved and the other does not.
  • Interest in reconciliation services: in about 10% of couples, both spouses are interested, and in over 1/3 of couples, one is interested and the other not.


In about 45% of couples in the divorce process, one or both spouses hold some degree of belief that their marriage could be saved and would consider help with reconciliation.