Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 13, 2021

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First adopted in Louisiana in 1997 as an effort to control divorce rates and protect children, covenant marriages are a type of marriage presented as an option to a couple before they wed that makes it more difficult to end than a traditional marriage, which in theory would reduce the rate of divorce.

What is a covenant marriage?

A covenant marriage is simply a formal or solemn agreement stating the intention of lifelong commitment and responsibilities of marriage. The term is often used in a religious context, but not always. When a couple enters into a covenant marriage, it simply means that the couple has promised to give certain things a try in order to attempt to save the marriage during marital difficulties before officially going through with a divorce, should something go wrong in the future. Essentially:

  • The “covenant” being agreed upon says that the married couple will go through certain processes specified in the agreement in the event one of them desires a divorce.
  • A covenant marriage agreement requires the couple to undergo premarital counseling sessions before filing a marriage license application and later, if problems develop, they are required to attend marital counseling in order to try to solve conflicts with the help of a professional marriage counselor before they can file for divorce.

Unlike traditional marriage, no-fault divorces are not permitted when people enter into a covenant marriage. However, a couple legally married via a covenant marriage can divorce after a two-year period of legal separation or for limited legal reasons, such as if one party is guilty of certain behaviors including:

  • Adultery
  • Domestic violence (e.g., physical or sexual abuse of the other spouse or a child)
  • Abandoning the home
  • Being convicted of a felony crime

These grounds for divorce are basically “deal-breaker” situations and the spouse who was on the other end of the abusive treatment or actions will not be required to make a reasonable effort to meet any agreements of the covenant before seeking and typically being granted a dissolution of marriage.

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How do you convert to a covenant marriage?

It is possible for couples that are already married to convert their marriage to a covenant marriage. Doing so is a matter of filing legal paperwork and typically undergoing marital counseling at the time of the conversion. Several other states have considered or proposed covenant marriages as an option to the more traditional, easy-to-get-out-of contracts, but no covenant marriage legislation has passed in other states.

What are the benefits of a covenant marriage?

A covenant marriage can benefit the pair, not only by giving them a chance to avoid divorce but also by limiting legal battles should a divorce take place. The covenant does have a requirement that certain efforts to be made in the event a divorce is desired, but once those requirements are met, the legal path to divorce is typically smooth, since the covenant is a form of legal proof that a good faith effort was made before choosing to divorce.

How can you get legal help?

To get help understanding covenant marriages or for more information about your marriage and divorce rights, it is in your best interests to speak with a lawyer in your local area.