As an Evangelical Christian who practices family law, I am often caught in a tenuous place when it comes to marriage. On one hand, I strongly believe in an obvious “Plan-A”: people get married, love each other, and stay married forever. On the other, there are practical realities that I cannot change, namely that sometimes a marriage dies long before a person does.
This puts me in an awkward spot when it comes to Arkansas’s Covenant Marriage. Under Arkansas’s Covenant Marriage law (enacted by the “Covenant Marriage Act of 2001“), a prospective couple must go through “authorized counseling” before getting married that lays out the importance of marriage and makes clear that it is a lifelong commitment. The parties sign some papers to show that they want to enter a Covenant Marriage and have an authorized person sign, too. That’s all it takes.
The idea behind Arkansas’s Covenant Marriage is that there should be an option for couples who want to avoid the possibility of “drive-thru” or “quickie” divorces. In order to end a Covenant Marriage, you must be able to show that the other spouse committed adultery, was convicted of a felony, or committed physical or emotional abuse. Otherwise there is a mandatory waiting period before a couple can end a Covenant Marriage.
It sounds like a great way to save marriages, I’ll admit. Like in the same way that getting rid of the income tax sounds good at first. But is Covenant Marriage really a good idea—can it really strengthen marriages? I have my doubts, and I don’t feel comfortable recommending it.
Reasons to Avoid Covenant Marriage:
- The “authorized counseling” is a hoop to jump through, both for the parties and the counselor. In my experience, a couple doesn’t have any better handle on the permanence of marriage after receiving this so-called authorized counseling. People who are contemplating marriage tend to be a little, well, hasty. Result: more red tape, no additional commitment.
- There are instances where a couple thinks they need a divorce but really don’t, I admit. In that situation, a little more time together will bring this to light. But that’s not normal; most people don’t just run in and out of marriages. When they want out, it’s for good reason, and it doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest to keep them married for a few years awaiting the judicial separation clock to run out.
- On a related point, when people want to get divorced they will typically find a way to get divorced. That is, if a party needs a ground, he or she can find a ground. Whether from spying or fabrication, the effort required to prove a ground for divorce in a Covenant Marriage is virtually certain to increase conflict between the parties, even if the ground actually exists.
There is little doubt that marriage has been cheapened by skyrocketing divorce rates and the reputation of family courts. It’s not pretty. But Covenant Marriage isn’t the solution. Arkansas’s Covenant Marriage rules make one of the most difficult times in a person’s life more costly, more lengthy, and more frustrating.
A better solution may be a carefully crafted prenuptial agreement that lays out the parties agreed-upon grounds. Unless, of course, you think the Arkansas General Assembly has a better idea about your marriage than you do.