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Covenant marriage

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Covenant marriage is a legally distinct kind of marriage in three states of the United States (Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana), in which the marrying spouses agree to obtain pre-marital counseling and accept more limited grounds for later seeking divorce (the least strict of which being that the couple lives apart from each other for two years). Louisiana became the first state to pass a covenant marriage law in 1997;[1][2] shortly afterwards, Arkansas[3] and Arizona[4] followed suit. Since its inception, very few couples in those states have married under covenant marriage law.

As of the 2015 nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, covenant marriages now can be contracted by either opposite- or same-sex couples.


Prior to entering into a covenant marriage, a couple must attend premarital counseling sessions "emphasizing the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage"[5] and must sign a statement declaring "that a covenant marriage is for life."[6][7][8] In contrast to no-fault divorce's more lenient requirements for non-covenant marriages, a spouse in a covenant marriage desiring a divorce may first be required to attend marital counseling.[9][8] A spouse desiring a divorce must also prove that one of the following is true:[9][10][8]

  • The other spouse has committed adultery.
  • The other spouse has committed a felony.
  • The other spouse engages in substance abuse.
  • The other spouse has physically or sexually abused the spouse or a child.
  • The spouses have been living separately for a minimum amount of time specified by law (one or two years, depending on the law of the state).

Couples married without a covenant marriage may also accept the obligations of a covenant marriage at a later date.[11][8]

Intent and acceptance[edit]

According to proponents of covenant marriage, the movement sets out to promote and strengthen marriages, reduce the rate of divorce, decrease the number of children born out of wedlock, discourage cohabitation, and frame marriage as an honorable and desirable institution.[12][13]

Despite the goals of covenant marriage proponents, in the three states with covenant marriage statutes, only an extremely small minority of newlyweds chose covenant marriage.[14] In Louisiana, between 2000 and 2010, only about 1 percent of marrying couples chose a covenant marriage, with the other 99 percent choosing to marry under standard marriage laws permitting no-fault divorce.[15] In Arizona, estimates of the rate of covenant marriage among new couples range from 0.25 percent to 1 percent.[16] In Arkansas, a similarly very small number of couples choose covenant marriage.[14][17]

Out of state divorce[edit]

A number of legal analyses suggest that states are likely to apply local state divorce law when a resident seeks a divorce, or when both members of a marriage agree to seek a divorce. This potentially renders covenant marriage's divorce restrictions ineffective if one individual establishes residency in a state without a covenant marriage law, or if both individuals go to such a state for an uncontested divorce.[18][19][20]

Religious issues[edit]

Critics of covenant marriage have described it "as an example of religion harnessing state power"[21][failed verification] and creating roadblocks to no-fault divorce that "could easily exacerbate" a bad family "situation and harm kids."[17] According to these critics, "[w]aiting periods and mandatory classes 'add a new frustration to already frustrated lives'" and are merely "a form of paternalism – expanding government in pursuit of socially conservative ends."[17]

Though covenant marriage law is written neutrally with respect to religion, many view it as state permission for a religious form of marriage, particularly due to its historical background.[22] Katherine Spaht, a founder of the Louisiana Family Forum and a proponent of Louisiana's covenant marriage law, stated that one "less obvious objective" is "inviting religion back 'into the public square'" to "revitalize and reinvigorate the 'community' known as the church". This can be inferred, she said, from the rule about "who may perform the mandatory premarital counseling", namely, "a minister, priest, rabbi, or other clergyman of a religious sect".[13] Tony Perkins, a sponsor of the Louisiana Covenant Marriage Bill and another founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, described covenant marriage as fostering an environment for "traditional family values" that are "up to the faith community."[23]

Notable covenant marriages[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nichols, Joel A. (1998). "Louisiana's Covenant Marriage Law: A First Step Towards a More Robust Pluralism in Marriage and Divorce Law?". University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota). 47. Emory Law Journal. SSRN 762464.
  2. ^ "Covenant Marriage" (PDF). Louisiana Laws on Community Property and Covenant Marriage. Retrieved June 26, 2022.
  3. ^ "Covenant v. traditional marriage in Arkansas". Arkansas Times. July 18, 2013.
  4. ^ "Covenant Marriage Information". AZCourtHelp. Arizona Bar Foundation. 2022.
  5. ^ "2017 Arkansas Code Title 9 - Family Law; Subtitle 2 - Domestic Relations; Chapter 11 - Marriage; Subchapter 8 - Covenant Marriage Act; § 9-11-803. Covenant marriage" – via JUSTIA US Law.
  6. ^ "2017 Arkansas Code; Title 9 - Family Law; Subtitle 2 - Domestic Relations; Chapter 11 - Marriage; Subchapter 8 - Covenant Marriage Act; § 9-11-804. Content of declaration of intent; Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-11-804" – via JUSTIA US Law.
  7. ^ "25-901. Covenant marriage; declaration of intent; filing requirements". Arizona State Legislature. Retrieved November 24, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d "Department of Health & Hospitals | State of Louisiana". New.dhh.louisiana.gov. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "2017 Arkansas Code; Title 9 - Family Law; Subtitle 2 - Domestic Relations; Chapter 11 - Marriage; Subchapter 8 - Covenant Marriage Act; § 9-11-808. Divorce or separation" – via JUSTIA US Law.
  10. ^ "View Document". Azleg.gov. Retrieved November 24, 2022.
  11. ^ "2017 Arkansas Code; Title 9 - Family Law; Subtitle 2 - Domestic Relations; Chapter 11 - Marriage; Subchapter 8 - Covenant Marriage Act; § 9-11-807. Applicability to already married couples" – via JUSTIA US Law.
  12. ^ Nock, Steven L.; Sanchez, Laura Ann; Wright, James D. (2008). Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813543260.
  13. ^ a b Spaht, Katherine S. "Louisiana's Covenant Marriage: Social Commentary and Legal Implications". Katherine S. Spaht Faculty Webpage, Louisiana State University Law Center. Archived from the original on March 7, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Covenant Marriage Statistics". Marriage.about.com. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  15. ^ "Divorce option may be harder to reach under covenant bill in Alabama Legislature | AL.com". Blog.al.com. March 19, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  16. ^ Drewianka, Scott D. (March 2003). Civil Unions and Covenant Marriage: The Economics of Reforming Marital Institutions (PDF) (Report). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 9, 2014.
  17. ^ a b c Keyes, Scott (April 11, 2014). "Conservatives aren't just fighting same-sex marriage. They're also trying to stop divorce". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  18. ^ Hay, Peter (Fall 2003). "The American "Covenant Marriage" in the Conflict of Laws – The American "Covenant Marriage" in the Conflict of Laws". Louisiana Law Review. 64 (1 Symposium on Harmless Error - Part II Article 7). Retrieved August 13, 2022.
  19. ^ Macke, Jason Andrew. "Of Covenants and Conflicts- When "I Do" Means More Than It Used To, But Less Than You Thought" (PDF). Retrieved August 13, 2022.
  20. ^ Ng, Lily (2007). "Covenant Marriage and the Conflict of Laws, 2007 CanLIIDocs 185". Alberta Law Review. 44 (4). Retrieved August 13, 2022.
  21. ^ McClain, Linda C. "Marriage Pluralism in the United States: Multiple Jurisdictions and the Demands of Equal Citizenship" (PDF). Untying the Knots Conference, Brandeis University. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  22. ^ Baker, Elizabeth H.; Sanchez, Laura A.; Nock, Steven L.; Wright, James D. (2008). "Covenant Marriage and the Sanctification of Gendered Marital Roles". Journal of Family Issues. 30 (2): 147–178. doi:10.1177/0192513X08324109. S2CID 22886349.
  23. ^ Perkins, Tony (1999). "Covenant Marriage: A Legislator's Perspective" (PDF). Regent University Law Review. 12: 27–29.
  24. ^ Isaac Stanley-Becker (October 26, 2023). "House Speaker Mike Johnson used faith in campaign against gay rights". The Washington Post. When Johnson married his wife, Kelly Lary, in 1999, they chose what's known as a covenant marriage, which requires people to engage in premarital counseling and makes it harder to get divorced. The couple became spokespeople for the arrangement, first made available in Louisiana two years before they were wed and only allowed in a handful of states. Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America a few years later, they called covenant marriage a 'no-brainer'.