Approximately 40% of all first marriages in the United States ended in divorce at the beginning of the 21st century.
Troubled by the statistics, lawmakers in a handful of states sought to reverse the trend by making divorce more difficult. The result was covenant marriage laws, and in 2001, Arkansas became the third state in the nation (and so far, the last) to adopt them.
What are the requirements for a covenant marriage?
Covenant marriage has two significant requirements: Couples must undergo premarital counseling and pledge pre-emptively to make reasonable efforts to work out any differences before divorcing. Couples in Arkansas interested in covenant marriage have two ways to enter into one. Those who have not yet married can obtain a covenant marriage license after meeting the requirements. However, those who are already married can convert their existing license to a covenant marriage license after completing the necessary counseling. Covenant marriage is not compulsory; rather, a couple has to opt into it.
Can a couple in a covenant marriage get divorced?
It is not impossible to end a covenant marriage through divorce, but it is more difficult owing to fewer available grounds and state-imposed counseling obligations. The laws gained widespread support from evangelicals, as well as some social scientists and liberal thinkers worried about the effects of divorce on women and children. However, they were also controversial. Critics worried that covenant marriage would violate church-state separation, trap some people in abusive relationships or undermine the stability of noncovenant marriages.
Does covenant marriage prevent divorce?
After nearly 20 years, is covenant marriage successful at preventing divorce in Arkansas? Research shows that couples in covenant marriages not only tend to report slightly more satisfaction in their relationships than couples who are not, they also tend to divorce less often. However, this could be because the couples who are more likely to opt for a covenant marriage are less likely to divorce in the first place due to the social values they hold and/or the religious principles they embrace.
For whatever reason, very few couples opt for covenant marriages in the jurisdictions where it is available. Covenant marriage represents less than 5% of the unions that have taken place in Arkansas and the other two states that offer it, Arizona and Louisiana.