Declaration of Covenant Marriage
Declaration of Covenant Marriage
By: Louisiana State Legislature
Source: State of Louisiana. "House Bill 1631." 1999 〈http://www.lafayetteparishclerk.com/download/pdf/hb1631.pdf〉 (accessed June 21, 2006).
About the Author: The Louisiana State Legislature consists of two chambers: the House, comprising 105 Representatives, and the 39-member Senate. The Legislature meets annually in the state capital, Baton Rouge.
From 1900 to 2000, the divorce rate in America roughly doubled. As a result of this increase more children grew up in single-parent homes, making them statistically more likely to experience poverty, poor health, and problems with law enforcement. Federal spending for direct support of single-parent homes also skyrocketed, passing $150 billion per year.
Numerous factors have been blamed for the increase in divorces, including changes in state divorce laws. For most of U.S. history, state divorce laws took the traditional marriage vows of "till death do us part" literally, granting divorces only in extreme cases such as physical abuse or infidelity. Mutual dislike or a simple desire to end a marriage were not considered legal justification for divorce, making a divorce much harder to obtain. Most state laws forbade divorce unless one partner was completely at fault and the other totally innocent, a standard which if truly enforced would tend to make divorce impossible.
Despite tight restrictions on divorces, couples still found themselves seeking freedom from existing marriages. To accomplish this legal trick couples sometimes found themselves play-acting a particular script in court in order to satisfy court requirements. For example, New York State originally allowed divorce only for infidelity; historical accounts describe early twentieth century cases in which a divorcing couple hired an actress with whom the husband would stage an affair in order to obtain a divorce. This perjurious practice became known as collusive adultery.
California law initially allowed divorce for seven causes including adultery, neglect, and insanity; the ill-defined cause known as extreme cruelty quickly became the catch-all claim for couples wishing to separate, and eventually provided the legal basis for the majority of divorce filings in California. A 1966 state report criticized the system, arguing that the requirement of establishing fault in order to grant a divorce was not realistic. The result was the nation's first no-fault divorce law, which allowed divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. States around the nation quickly followed suit, passing their own no-fault laws and reducing the number of hurdles standing in the path of legally ending a marriage.
Supporters and opponents of no-fault divorce disagree sharply over the law's impact. Opponents are generally critical of any measure that streamlines the process of dissolving a marriage, arguing that such measures will lead to the dissolution of marriages which might otherwise be salvaged. Supporters of the laws point out that divorce rates are not noticeably different in no-fault and at-fault divorce states, nor did divorce rates rise noticeably after no-fault laws were passed. Supporters claim these two facts suggest that even before the advent of no-fault divorce couples were finding ways to end unhappy marriages.
Marriage advocates have responded to these changes in numerous ways. Pre-marriage counseling has become far more common, with clergy in some areas requiring these sessions before performing a marriage. Marriage support groups have sprung up across the nation, and most book stores and libraries offer numerous books on marriage success. In 1999, in response to loosened divorce requirements in most states a group of Christian ministers and marriage counselors launched the Covenant Marriage Movement.
Covenant marriage requires a more rigid legal agreement than a standard marriage. Under a covenant agreement, both parties complete premarital counseling and marry for life. They also agree that they will pursue counseling before seeking a divorce, and that they will seek divorce only under very specific circumstances. In 1997, Louisiana became the first state to pass a covenant marriage law, followed by Arizona and Arkansas. Similar legislation is under consideration in several other states.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana:"…"
C. In cases wherein the parties intend to contract a covenant marriage, the application for a marriage license must also include the following statement completed by at least one of the two parties: both parties shall not affect the validity of the covenant marriage if the declaration of intent and accompanying affidavit have been signed by the parties.
273. Covenant marriage; contents of declaration of intent A declaration of intent to contract a covenant marriage shall contain all of the following:
(1)A recitation signed by both parties to the following effect:
"A Covenant Marriage
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 premarital counseling on the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage. We have read the Covenant Marriage Act, 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 Louisiana 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."
While numerous states have debated mandatory waiting periods to obtain a divorce, covenant marriage is a somewhat unconventional approach to reducing the incidence of divorce. Supporters of covenant marriage cite studies showing that couples undergoing pre-marital counseling have lower divorce rates, and that troubled couples who seek marriage counseling are more likely to reconcile and less likely to divorce. They also point out that the covenant marriage process itself requires more thought and effort, forcing engaged individuals to seriously consider whether they should marry or not.
Critics of covenant marriage find several flaws in the plan, beginning with religious overtones which they see as inappropriate in a state law. They also argue that even before no-fault divorce unhappy couples found ways to separate, so a new pledge of faithfulness is unlikely to prevent divorce. Finally they point to cases of severe physical abuse as one setting in which covenant marriage might endanger a woman's life by delaying her escape from a dangerous situation.
Covenant marriage is probably not the panacea its proponents believe it to be, nor is it likely to be as impotent as its detractors claim. When offered as an alternative to a standard marriage, covenant marriage provides an alternative for couples willing to make a deeper commitment, while not hindering couples who are not willing to do so.
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California Research Bureau, California State Library. "State Grounds for Divorce." 〈http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/98/04/stateground.pdf〉 (accessed June 21, 2006).
Coalition for Marriage, Couples, and Family Education. "Can Legislation Lower the Divorce Rate?" July 1998 〈http://marriage.about.com/gi/dynamic/〉 (accessed June 21, 2006).
Covenant Marriage Movement. "Covenant Marriage Legislation." 〈http://www.covenantmarriage.com/legislation/legislation.htm〉 (accessed June 21, 2006).