Although not heavily broadcast, Arizona is one of three states that has legislation strengthening the bonds of marriage when it passed A.R.S. 25-901 – otherwise known as the “covenant marriage” statute. Louisiana and Arkansas are the only two other states recognizing this union.
Why “Covenant Marriage”?
Covenant marriage strengthens families by removing the easy out secured by “no-fault” divorce legislation. By denying a spouse the ability to cite “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for separation, it encourages couples to confront issues, communicate, and ultimately strengthen the family. Divorce is often quite painful. The wedding day vows recited purport to last “until death do us part.” The reality sadly is this: if the marriage does not last, the pain from divorce probably will. Even worse, its effects ripple not only though the couple, but also through the children.
As fairly inferred from the statute, covenant marriage differs from a traditional marriage license by imposing certain requirements. These requirements essentially glue the marriage together not only by limiting the grounds for divorce but also by requiring full disclosure regarding the intent and seriousness of the marital sacrament. Here are the two main requirements:
- 1. A written statement of declaration:
We solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for as long as they both live. We have chosen each other carefully and have received premarital counseling on the nature, purposes and responsibilities of marriage. 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 declare that our marriage will be bound by Arizona 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.
- 2. Pre-marital counseling
A pre-marital counselor or member of the clergy must discuss the seriousness of marriage and the limited grounds for divorce. Furthermore, a sworn, notarized statement must be submitted by the marital counselor.
These two main requirements serve the foundation for entering into a covenant marriage. This is not entered into light-heartedly. The statement the spouses swear impose upon them an obligation: preserve the marriage, seek help in times of discord, love, honor, and care for the other throughout the rest of their lives. Granted, those last words are oft-repeated, but often fall by the wayside in stormy times. But promising those words under A.R.S. 25-901, and coupled with marital counseling, it ensures that when the storms of marriage arise, the couple will weather through them.
Grounds for Divorce:
A covenant marriage strengthens the cords of marriage; it does not lock a couple into an airtight bond with no basis for breach. Grounds for divorce exist, but only under the eight reasons as established by A.R.S. 25-903. Of those eight, half codify a finding of serious fault: adultery, felony conviction with imprisonment, physical or sexual abuse, and abandonment. The last four allow for more lax standards: agreement by both spouses to dissolve the marriage, drug or alcohol abuse, and spouses living in separate domicile for two years or legal separation for a period of time.
The most significant departure from “no-fault” divorce is that no one spouse may simply obtain a divorce without cause. Seeking divorce outside one of these eight permissible categories is virtually futile; even within them, a divorce is not necessarily automatic. After all, the couple agreed to take reasonable measures to preserve the marriage – including marital counseling.
What if I’m already married?
Even those already married are eligible to convert their marriage into a covenant marriage. The main requirement, besides a nominal fee, is a signed declaration of intent to convert the marriage into a covenant marriage. This is not uncommon.
Some Arizona courts already have pre-printed forms to fill out. Once the clerk of the court files the document, the work is complete. Unlike those entering into covenant marriage initially, those already married need not complete marital counseling.
For more information, or to initiate the process of obtaining a covenant marriage license or converting to one, contact the court for information (for formatting’s sake, I am including both Pima and Maricopa county and not every county court). Alternatively, click here for more information.
201 W. Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85003
110 W. Congress
Tucson, AZ 85701