Covenant Marriages

 Divorced Families Co parentingCovenant marriages are a phenomenon that has taken root in the last two decades, but to date, only in three States: Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana.

What sets a covenant marriage apart from a traditional marriage is that in a covenant marriage, the couples voluntarily enter into the marriage contract holding themselves to a higher standard. Laws in these three States require a greater effort by the couple at working at a troubled marriage using marital counseling and longer separation times once a marriage breaks down.

Entering into this type of marriage is as much a statement about the commitment the couples make to each other as it is an agreement on how to manage a troubled marriage and/or end a failed marriage. The parties agree to two stipulations when they marry:

  • They agree to seek marriage counseling if problems develop in the marriage
  • They only seek a separation or divorce for limited reasons as defined below

Declaration of Intent

The couple must draft and sign the document called a Declaration of Intent. This document provides that the parties:

  • have made a marriage agreement to live together as husband and wife for the balance of their lives
  • have enthusiastically chosen each other carefully and have disclosed to each other everything that might negatively affect their decision to marry
  • have made a joint commitment that if they experience marital difficulties, that they agree to make all reasonable efforts to preserve their marriage, including marriage counseling
  • have received premarital counseling before the ceremony from clergy or another qualified counselor
  • notarized signatures of both parties

After discussing the meaning of covenant marriages with the counselor, the couple must sign the Affidavit and Attestation form. As part of this form, the counselor attests that s/he has discussed the aspects of covenant marriage with the couple, and has notarized his/her signature. The counselor confirms a discussion that included:Child custody strategies

  • the profound implications of this type of marriage
  • that the commitment is to last a lifetime
  • reiteration of the couple’s obligation to seek counseling if problems arise in the marriage
  • recognition that the couple has received the informational publication on Covenant Marriage produced by the State

Once completed, the Declaration of Intent (that includes the Recitations and the Affidavit of Attestation) must be presented to the official who issues the marriage license, along with the couple’s application for a marriage license.

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Grounds for Divorce

  • One of the spouses has committed adultery
  • Commitment of a felony or sentence of death or imprisonment at hard labor
  • Abandonment of the marital home for a year, and the refusal to return to it
  • Physical or sexual abuse of one of the spouses or a child of one of the spouses
  • Spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for two years or more
  • The spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without
  • reconciliation for a period of one year from the date of the judgment of separation from bed and board was signed
  • In cases where there is a minor child of the marriage, the spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for a period of one year and six months from the date the judgment of separation from bed and board was

Instead of an immediate divorce, a separation from bed and board may be obtained. The grounds for a judgment of separation from bed and board are as follows:

  • The other spouse has committed adultery
  • The other spouse has committed a felony and has been
  • sentenced to death or imprisonment at hard labor
  • The other spouse has abandoned the matrimonial domicile for a
  • period of one year and constantly refuses to return
  • The other spouse has physically or sexually abused the spouse
  • seeking the divorce or a child of one of the spouses
  • The spouses have been living separate and apart continuously
  • without reconciliation for a period of two years
  • On account of habitual intemperance of the other spouse, or excesses, cruel treatment, or outrages of the other spouse, if such habitual intemperance, or such ill-treatment is of such a nature as to render their living together insupportable

The practical difference between a traditional marriage and a covenant marriage is how the parties enter into the marriage contract. In traditional marriage, a couple buys a marriage license, obtains two witnesses and has a state-licensed person marry them. They vow to be together for life, but the reality is either can simply walk out. In covenant marriages, they promise to marry for life and make it more difficult if that vow can’t be met.

Covenant marriages, despite all the hoopla, haven’t caught on in any meaningful way.Scales of Justice In fact, the percentages of a State’s overall marriages that become covenant marriages are:

    • Louisiana – about one per cent
    • Arizona – one-quarter of one per cent
    • Arkansas – less than one-tenth of one per cent

Proponents of covenant marriages assert that entering into one provides:
    • stricter criteria for divorce
    • a renewed commitment which helps to put the breaks on fast divorces
    • a strengthening of the marriage, reinforced by an agreement to receive counseling when necessary, giving the marriage a better chance in succeeding
Detractors of the process:

Suggest there is no evidence that these marriages don’t outlast traditional marriages. Some claim that if one party objects to the divorce, the courts will refuse to hear the case until the two year separation has transpired. Still others complain that charges of abuse are largely ignored.

Partners in a covenant marriage owe to each other the same legal obligations that traditional married couples do as well as subscribe to other special rules. Those rules include:
    • spouses owe each other love and respect and they commit to a community of living
    • spouses are bound to each other for life unless there is good cause not to be
    • spouses determine the family residence by mutual consent
    • the management of the house is a right and responsibility of both parties
    • spouses should make decisions, by mutual consent after collaboration, in the best interest of the family as it relates to family life

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