Until Death Do Us Part: Arizona’s Efforts In Strengthing Marriage – A.R.S. 25-901

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. 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. 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.

Maricopa County
201 W. Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85003
(602) 506-3676

Pima County
110 W. Congress
Tucson, AZ 85701
(520) 740-3200

3 thoughts on “Until Death Do Us Part: Arizona’s Efforts In Strengthing Marriage – A.R.S. 25-901

  1. Catholicmanhood – The Arizona statute has been in place since 1998. Louisiana enacted it first in 1997; it wasn’t until 2001 that Arkansas passed the legislation.

    I am not entirely sure why this type of legislation has not become more prolific – especially in the more conservative states. Personally, I suspect the reason is because there is simply not enough initiative to propel it forward as opposed to the frustration of the marital system.

    This type of legislation is not unlike the “Choose Life” license plates also available in Arizona. That license plate program was largely spearheaded by Randy Harris and Russ Amerling. If I remember correctly, Mr. Amerling took a van and went throughout the nation drumming up support. But this isn’t easy. Even in the most conservative of states passing this legislation is slow work. Case in point: the bill for the proposed “Choose Life” license plates passed unanimously in the Texas senate but it died in the House. It will be another two years before an another attempt is made. If Mr. Harris or the subsequent grassroots movement this proposal is based open fizzles out, then nothing will ever become of it. At last count, those plates are available in 32 states.

    It is the same I believe with covenant marriage statutes. It requires a committed sponsor willing to push this forward and see it through the end. This legislation has been introduced in 21 other states without effect. To me, it seems as if the big push came ten years ago and very little has happened since that.

    It’s not that people don’t necessarily want to enter into covenant marriage; I’m sure many would others would enter into it if that were an option. I would assume the next state to jump on the bandwagon to be Texas. But as we’ve seen with the specialty license plate program, it’s easier said than done.

    Furthermore, besides lacking a zealous sponsor, another strike lies in the lack of education about the statute. From 2001-2004 in Arkansas, only 600 couples out of 40,000 marriages opted for covenant marriage. Huckabee, to his credit, persuaded over 1,000 other couples to convert to covenant marriage – himself included – on Valentine’s Day in 2005. But really, I think people just don’t know about it. And unless someone informs them, this trend will likely continue.

    Here, when you opted not to engage in a covenant marriage, you did so fully aware of the marital implications (and I commend you for that); it would have been redundant to do so. Those that choose to engage in a covenant marriage (or consciously choose not to engage) are likely to be among those where the marriage will last and least subject to the whims of “irreconcilable differences.”

    However, the divorce rate among Christians is almost as high as non-religious citizens. Statutes like these, if promoted by pastors and priests, may go a long way to shoring up divorce rate among religious and church-goers.

    I don’t see this as superseding the authority of the Church; rather, it is a means of securing and strengthening the institution of marriage. In that sense, I find this statutes are beneficial. It’s telling that these statutes even exist. There was a time when there was no such thing as “no-fault” divorce. A.R.S. 25-901 is a step toward mitigating the ease of obtaining a marital “dissolution.”

  2. Is this some new statute? When I was married in Arizona three years ago, this was an option when we went to get our marriage license. We did not go with that route since we were (a) fully aware of the implications of getting married, and (b) going to be married in the Church, which in our minds is far more authoritative in this realm than the State.

    I wonder why so few states have done this. Is it because they do not value marriage or is it because covenant marriages create havoc in “the system” because there are so many people seeking a divorce? I don’t know, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  3. Pingback: An Amicable Divorce? « ExDeserto

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