A covenant marriage is an additional option offered to couples who want to solidify their bond. Based on the only kind of marriage recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, covenant marriages are meant to last for a lifetime. While divorce is possible, ending a covenant marriage is more difficult than dissolving a traditional marriage.
As divorce rates rose dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s, states began introducing legislation to allow another kind of marriage with the hope that covenant marriages would reduce the rate of divorce and preserve the nuclear family. Only three states have passed legislation offering the option of covenant marriage. Other states have introduced legislation but failed to pass the bills.
Statistics and Requirements
Covenant marriage is only offered in Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana. One to three percent (1-3%) of couples who get married in those states sign the declaration of intent that classifies their union as a covenant marriage. In a covenant marriage, the couple signs a statement that says they will participate in premarital counseling and will seek counseling if problems arise in the marriage. During the premarital counseling, the couple learns about the seriousness of entering into a covenant marriage and the requirements that must be met before the court will grant a divorce.
There are several advantages to covenant marriage.
- The premarital counseling mandate ensures that the couple understands each other and is certain they want to get married and spend the rest of their lives together.
- When disagreements arise during the marriage, the commitment to work out their differences may lead a couple in a covenant marriage to contact a marriage counselor while couples in traditional marriages may contact a divorce lawyer instead.
- Because the couple commits to taking steps to resolve problems within the marriage without immediately seeking a divorce, covenant marriages may make families stronger.
Covenant marriages also have disadvantages.
- If a couple decides they no longer want to be married, they cannot file for a no-fault divorce.
- The contract couples sign when they get married limits the grounds for divorce. Irreconcilable differences are not really an option.
- A divorce will only be granted on the grounds of adultery, abuse of the spouse or children, habitual drunkenness (or drug abuse) or if one spouse is sent to prison. Before a couple in a covenant marriage can file for divorce, they must take reasonable steps to save their marriage. Couples must provide proof they attended marriage counseling, either as a couple or separately.
Separation Requirements Before Divorce
A divorce may also be granted if the couple is separated for a specified period of time. The minimum period of separation is longer than with traditional marriages.
In Arkansas, a couple must first be judicially separated. A divorce may then be granted in one year on the grounds of abuse, two years and six months if the couple has minor children and two years if there are no children and the divorce is for a reason other than abuse.
A Louisiana couple can get a divorce after they have lived separate and apart for at least two years.
Arizona will grant a divorce in a covenant marriage one year after one spouse abandons the other. When abandonment is not an issue, Arizona requires that a couple be separated for at least two years prior to getting a divorce.
Process of Ending A Covenant Marriage
After a couple has met the requirements to file for divorce, the procedure is similar to a traditional divorce. Family court judges may make temporary orders for custody and financial support during separation proceedings. However, due to the restrictions the couple agrees to when they apply for their marriage license, a final decree cannot be issued until the conditions for divorce have been met.