Covenant marriage

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Covenant marriage is a legally distinct kind of marriage in three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana) of the United States, 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 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][12][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, lessen the number of children born out of wedlock, discourage cohabitation, and frame marriage as an honorable and desirable institution.[13][14]

Despite the goals of covenant marriage proponents, in the three states with covenant marriage statutes, only an extremely small minority of newlyweds has chosen covenant marriage.[15] 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.[16] In Arizona, estimates of the rate of covenant marriage among new couples range from 0.25 percent to 1 percent.[17] In Arkansas, a similarly very small number of couples choose covenant marriage.[15][18]

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 state without a covenant marriage law, or if both individuals go to such a state for an uncontested divorce.[19][20][21]


Critics of covenant marriage have described it "as an example of religion harnessing state power" [22][failed verification] and creating roadblocks to no-fault divorce that "could easily exacerbate" a bad family "situation and harm kids."[18] 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."[18]

Covenant marriage law is technically written neutrally with respect to religion, however many view covenant marriage law as government permitting a religious form of marriage, particularly due to its historical background.[23] Indeed, Katherine Spaht, a founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, and a proponent of Louisiana's covenant marriage law, stated that “[a]nother less obvious objective of the legislation, which is reflected in who may perform the mandatory premarital counseling, is to revitalize and reinvigorate the 'community' known as the church. Reinvigoration results from inviting religion back 'into the public square' ...."[14] 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."[24]

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). Emory Law Journal. 47. 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 in Arizona". Arizona Supreme Court, Administrative Office of the Courts, Court Services Division, Court Programs Unit. Arizona State Library. 2006.
  5. ^ Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-11-803
  6. ^ Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-11-804
  7. ^ "Format Document". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  8. ^ a b c d "Department of Health & Hospitals | State of Louisiana". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  9. ^ a b Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-11-808
  10. ^ "Format Document". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  11. ^ Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-11-807
  12. ^ "Format Document". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  13. ^ Nock, Steven L.; Sanchez, Laura Ann; Wright, James D. (2008). Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813543260.
  14. ^ 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 2015-06-30.
  15. ^ a b "Covenant Marriage Statistics". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  16. ^ "Divorce option may be harder to reach under covenant bill in Alabama Legislature |". 2012-03-19. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  17. ^ Drewianka, Scott D. (March 2003). "Civil Unions and Covenant Marriage: The Economics of Reforming Marital Institutions" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 9, 2014. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ a b c Keyes, Scott (2014-04-11). "Conservatives aren't just fighting same-sex marriage. They're also trying to stop divorce". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  19. ^ 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. Volume 64 Number 1 Symposium on Harmless Error - Part II Article 7. Retrieved 13 August 2022. {{cite journal}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  20. ^ MACKE, JASON ANDREW. "Of Covenants and Conflicts- When "I Do" Means More Than It Used To, But Less Than You Thought" (PDF). Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  21. ^ Ng, Lily (2007). "Covenant Marriage and the Conflict of Laws, 2007 CanLIIDocs 185". Alberta Law Review. Volume 44 number 4. Retrieved 13 August 2022. {{cite journal}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  22. ^ 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 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-10-06.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Perkins, Tony (1999). "Covenant Marriage: A Legislator's Perspective" (PDF). Regent University Law Review. 12: 27–29.