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 only one year). 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.


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).

In many cases, such as in Pennsylvania, there is little difference between divorce under covenant marriage divorce law in other states, and divorce under no-fault divorce law in states such as Pennsylvania. For example, standard no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania also permits contested divorce only after parties have been separated for at least one year.[11]

Couples married without a covenant marriage may also accept the obligations of a covenant marriage at a later date.[12][13][8]

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.[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]

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.[18][19]


Critics of covenant marriage have described it "as an example of religion harnessing state power" [20] 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]

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.[21] 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' ...."[19] 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."[22]


  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. SSRN 762464. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  2. ^ "Covenant Marriage". Lafayette Parrish Clerk of the Court, 15th Judicial District of Louisiana. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  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. ^ Sheehan, Daniel P. (7 October 2016). "New Pa. law reduces no-fault divorce waiting period to one year". The Morning Call. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  12. ^ Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-11-807
  13. ^ "Format Document". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  14. ^ a b "Covenant Marriage Statistics". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  15. ^ "Divorce option may be harder to reach under covenant bill in Alabama Legislature |". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  16. ^
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Nock, Steven L., Laura Ann Sanchez, and James D. Wright. Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America: Rutgers University Press, 2008. UNC-CH Online Library. Web. 8 Nov. 2009. <>.
  19. ^ a b "Katherine S. Spaht: Covenant Marriage". Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  20. ^
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^