What Is a Covenant Marriage and What Does It Entail

What Is a Covenant Marriage and What Does It Entail

Many of have heard that half of all marriages end in divorce.  Well that is a bit of myth. In reality, divorce rates have been dropping since the 1980s and today the best guess is that only about 39% of marriages will end in divorce.  That is still a pretty terrible number, though, so a few states have tried to do something about it and created a process called covenant marriage.

Covenant marriage vs Traditional marriage

The basic steps to a traditional marriage are straight forward.  You must meet simple legal requirements, like being single (no bigamy), of legal age, and not seeking to marry a sibling (no incest).  You must then get a marriage certificate and sign it in front of an appropriate agent of the government. This usually comes along with some sort of “solemnization” ritual like traditional wedding vows

Covenant marriage basically steps up the requirements for getting married.  In Louisiana, for example, a couple entering into a covenant marriage must sign an extensive declaration of intent, sometimes called covenant marriage vows.  They have to promise to live together as husband and wife forever. They have to confirm they received premarital counseling and that in that process they have discussed anything that could be a problem for the marriage. 

When people ask “what is a covenant marriage,” the answer they get actually is not usually about marriage at all.  It is about divorce. These marriages are harder to get into, but they are much harder to get out of. Ending a covenant marriage usually requires showing some fault by the other party. That can include things like adultery, commiting a felony, abandonment, or abuse. Getting a no fault divorce from such marriages can take a long time. A separation period of two years is needed in Louisiana, for example.    

3 Covenant marriage states

There is no single covenant marriage definition, as each state doing it has created their own version.  The marriage covenant has spread to only three states so far: Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana.  The push to reform divorce laws got its biggest boost back in the late 1990s.  This legislation has been proposed in about half the states, but had limited traction.  Louisiana passed its law in 1997. Arizona followed the next year, and then Arkansas came along in 2001.

So far, the number of couples taking advantage of the laws has been fairly limited.  A few other states tried related efforts.  Florida required public schools to provide education on marriage, for example.  Oklahoma gave serious consideration to these marriage laws, but the proposal failed, possibly because of the number of divorce lawyers in the state legislature.  At the end of the day, public opinion seems to support allowing couples to split up if they want to do so.

A couple that is already married can still get a covenant marriage certificate in most cases.  It basically just requires going through the same steps that anyone else would have to go through.  This includes counseling and then attesting to the more significant wedding vows.

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