Covenant Marriage

Covenant marriage is a type of marriage that only exists in three U.S. states: Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Louisiana was the first state to pass such a law back in 1997. In a covenant marriage, the spouses agree to seek pre-marital counseling. They also agree to accept more restrictions insofar as the grounds on which they can file for divorce, one of the restrictions being that they need to live apart for one year before filing. To explore this concept, consider the following covenant marriage definition.

Definition of Covenant Marriage

Noun

  1. A type of marriage that places restrictions on divorce.

Origin

1997    Passage of Louisiana’s Covenant Marriage law

What is Covenant Marriage

Covenant marriage is a type of marriage that is only available, as of 2017, to Americans living in three states: Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Those who participate in a covenant marriage agree to attend counseling both before the marriage, and before the possibility of divorce. They also agree to wait a longer period of time than normal for their divorce to be finalized, to give them a longer time frame in which to be sure divorce is the course they wish to take.

According to covenant marriage supporters, there are several reasons why couples should engage in this type of marriage, such as the belief that the process:

  • Strengthens marriages
  • Reduces divorce rates
  • Lessens the number of children born out of wedlock
  • Discourages people from “living in sin” (living together while unmarried)
  • Frame the idea of marriage in an honorable and more desirable light

Additionally, upon entering into a covenant marriage, the couple must sign a statement agreeing that they are getting married “for life.” However, since the inception of the practice in 1997, very few couples have actually gotten married under the covenant marriage law. Though, couples who choose to get married without a covenant marriage are able to change their marriage to a covenant marriage later on, if they so desire.

Pros and Cons of Covenant Marriage

The purpose of covenant marriage laws is to ensure that those who agree to a covenant marriage are also agreeing to the idea that, should they want to end the marriage, they will have to go through more steps before it will be granted. This means that the couple must decide right from the start, as they get their marriage license, how they would want their marriage to end in the event that they would no longer desire to be together.

The pros and cons of covenant marriage can be considered one and the same, depending on perspective. For example, covenant marriages give couples a longer time frame before their divorces are finalized. This may encourage couples to realize that they jumped too rashly to the idea of divorce and would rather stay together and work on their problems. However, critics of covenant marriage worry that by giving couples that longer time period, there is more potential for children of the union to be hurt by the actions of parents who are unhappy and who no longer wish to be together but who are forced together by law.

Couples in covenant marriages are also encouraged to seek marriage counseling both before they get married, and before they file for divorce. Studies have shown that couples who seek counseling are less likely to get divorced, and some statistics show that divorce rates have plunged in communities where pre-marital counseling is sought. However, marriage counseling in a covenant marriage is often provided by a member of the clergy. This has led critics to voice their concern that the three states that participate in covenant marriage are encouraging marriages with religious overtones, thereby violating the practice of the separation of church and state.

Despite the hope that couples would see the consequences of their marriage commitments before they even got married, covenant marriage practices remain unpopular among newlyweds.

Covenant Marriage States

Despite the intentions behind the drafting of covenant marriage law, the three covenant marriage states have seen very few couples get married under covenant marriage law. For example, covenant marriage in Louisiana was at only about 1% of marriages during the period of 2000-2010. The other 99% of couples chose to marry under the standard laws that permitted no-fault divorces in the event their marriages should end. In another of the covenant marriage states, Arizona, on average, sees their rate of covenant marriage range from 0.25% to 1%.

These numbers were similar for Arkansas, the last of the three covenant marriage states. This is particularly interesting because Arkansas has one of the highest divorce rates in the nation, with an average of 6.5 divorces per 1,000 population, yet still there are very few couples who are interested in signing up for a covenant marriage. To put this number into perspective, the average rate of divorce for the entire United States is 4.2 per 1,000 population.

Religious Connotations of Covenant Marriage

The religious connotations of covenant marriage have been debated by those who both oppose and advocate for covenant marriage. This is because critics believe that covenant marriage law is the government’s way of giving its official permission to a religious form of marriage. Those who oppose the idea of covenant marriage have described the practice as “an example of religion harnessing state power.”

Some have said that the drafting of the covenant marriage law was neutral with respect to religion. However, the very word “covenant” implies the religious connotations of covenant marriage. Specifically, the word “covenant” in the Bible is interpreted to mean a contract that is entered into between man and God. There is also the added caveat that when couples go for marriage counseling before seeking a divorce in a covenant marriage, this counseling is often provided by a priest, minister, or clergyman. The couple is reminded of the religious ramifications they can incur by agreeing to obtain a divorce.

Requirements for Divorce under Covenant Marriage

Should the spouses in a covenant marriage desire the marriage to end, there are certain requirements for divorce under covenant marriage that must be followed. One such requirement is that the couple attend marriage counseling before obtaining a divorce. Another requirement for divorce under covenant marriage is that the spouse who desires the divorce must be able to prove that one of the following is true:

  • The other spouse is guilty of committing adultery.
  • The other spouse is guilty of committing a felony.
  • The other spouse has issues with drug abuse.
  • The other spouse has abused, either physically or sexually, his or her spouse or a child.
  • The spouses have been living separately for the minimum time frame specified by state law, which is one or two years, depending on the state.

In many cases, the requirements for divorce under covenant marriage are not much different from those specified by law in other states. For example, covenant marriage law is no different from that of the no-fault divorce laws of Pennsylvania. Critics also argue that, if a couple in a covenant marriage wants to obtain a faster divorce, they can simply seek the divorce in one of the other 47 states that do not have laws pertaining to covenant marriage.

How to Enter a Covenant Marriage Example

Those who wish to enter into a covenant marriage can do so by indicating their intent on the application for their marriage license. They must then follow the requirements associated with obtaining a covenant marriage. For instance, in Arizona the soon-to-be spouses must provide a written statement that reads as follows:

“We solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for as long as they both live. We have chosen each other carefully and have received premarital counseling on the nature, purposes and responsibilities of marriage. We understand that a covenant marriage is for life. If we experience marital difficulties, we commit ourselves to take all reasonable efforts to preserve our marriage, including marital counseling.

“With full knowledge of what this commitment means, we do declare that our marriage will be bound by Arizona law on covenant marriages and we promise to love, honor and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of our lives.”

From there, the parties must submit an affidavit indicating they have received premarital counseling from either a professional marriage counselor or a member of the clergy. Premarital counseling consists of a discussion about the seriousness of a covenant marriage, as well as the discussion and understanding that a covenant marriage is a lifelong commitment. Further, the parties are to acknowledge in their affidavit that they have been informed that they are obligated to seek counseling in times of marital discord, and that they understand the more exclusive grounds on which they can file for a divorce or legal separation.

The signatures of the parties must be witnessed by a court clerk, and the clergy member or counselor who conducts the counseling session(s) must provide a notarized statement to be submitted along with the couple’s marriage license application. The statement should confirm the fact that the couple were indeed counseled on the aspects of a covenant marriage, and that the counselor provided to the parties the informational pamphlet that was developed by the court for this purpose. The court clerk is then to confirm that the counselor’s statement has been submitted.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Adultery – The act of a married person engaging in sexual relations with a person who is not his spouse.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • No-Fault Divorce – A type of divorce in which the filing spouse does not have to prove that the other spouse is at fault in any way in order to obtain the divorce.
  • Notarized Statement – A declaration that is used to confirm that a written statement is true for the purpose of being used in a court of law.

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