Covenant marriage is legal in three states: Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana. In essence, it really does two things: makes it harder to get married and makes it harder to get divorced.
First, before you can enter into a covenant marriage, you have submit to authorized marital counseling by a therapist or preacher or similar person, and you have to sign a declaration that says this:
“We do solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for so long as they both may live. We have chosen each other carefully and disclosed to one another everything which could adversely affect the decision to enter into this marriage. We have received authorized counseling on the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage. We have read the Covenant Marriage Act of 2001, and we understand that a covenant marriage is for life. If we experience marital difficulties, we commit ourselves to take all reasonable efforts to preserve our marriage, including marital counseling.
With full knowledge of what this commitment means, we do hereby declare that our marriage will be bound by Arkansas law on covenant marriages, and we promise to love, honor, and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of our lives.”
Your counselor also has to sign a declaration that says that he or she has explained to you the nature and purpose of covenant marriage and the grounds for termination of the marriage. These grounds specifically include ONLY the following:
- (1) The other spouse has committed adultery;
- (2) The other spouse has committed a felony or other infamous crime;
- (3) The other spouse has physically or sexually abused the spouse seeking the divorce or a child of one of the spouses;
- (4) The spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for a period of two years (or two years and six months of a minor child is involved);
- (5) The spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for a period of two years from the date the judgment of judicial separation was signed.
In sum, unless there has been adultery, a felony or abuse, you have to wait the two plus years of separation. In the meantime, you can get a judicial separation (which may come with some spousal support).
In my experience, people are often wearing rose-colored glasses when they enter into a covenant marriage. They are in love and assume that they always will be. I have seen covenant marriages completely fall apart in a matter of months, only for the couple to have to wait for two years in order to get divorced. My advice is to be very careful when entering into this kind of marriage. And if you’re trying to get out of one, get yourself a good lawyer.
Leslie is a family law attorney in Northwest Arkansas. She offers free consultations. If you would like to meet with her to discuss your particular situation, please contact her office to schedule a consultation.