In some states, marrying couples can choose a “covenant marriage” rather than just your run-of-the-mill legal marriage. In a covenant marriage, the marrying couple agree to go through pre-marital counseling and accept more limited grounds for divorce in the event that they should choose to split. In essence, the covenant marriage makes it harder to divorce.
With religious roots (though written in religiously neutral language), the covenant marriage laws came about to reduce the perceived climbing divorce rate and to reinforce the notion that marriage is more than just a legal contract. While covenant is generally used in legal circles as a synonym for agreement or contract, it is used in the phrase “covenant marriage” to give it a deeper, unifying sensibility.
Despite the religious undertones, many argue that the covenant marriage movement’s goal is to encourage marriage because it decreases the poverty of women and children and the psychological and emotional damage of children.
The pre-marital counseling must be certified to the clerk by a clergy member or marriage counselor. The couple must then acknowledge their intent to enter into the covenant marriage and their understanding of the limited grounds for divorce as a result.
Once a couple has entered into a valid covenant marriage, it is more difficult for them to obtain a divorce. While there is typically no requirement to show fault or even cause beyond incompatibility for a divorce to be granted, the dissolution of a covenant marriage will be granted only on limited grounds. These grounds typically include domestic violence, a felony with jail time, drug abuse, abandonment, separation for over two years or adultery (basically, the standard grounds for a traditional at-fault divorce).
The divorce restrictions will only apply if the divorce petition is filed in a state that recognizes covenant marriages.
Louisiana was the first state to create covenant marriage in 1997. Arkansas and Arizona have passed covenant marriage laws since then. People who are already married in these states may change their marriage to a covenant marriage. In order to convert to a covenant marriage, the couple typically files an affidavit and declaration of intent to enter into a covenant marriage (along with a filing fee, of course).
Legislation has been introduced to create legal covenant marriage in over 20 other states but no other state has passed a covenant marriage law.