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What is a Covenant Marriage
Covenant marriage is a union between spouses that is legally different from a non-covenant or traditional marriage.
Covenant and non-covenant marriages are the only two types of marital unions in the State of Arizona. However, covenant marriages were not legal in the state until they were codified by statute and became a law on August 21, 1998.
A covenant marriage has more requirements before entering into the marriage. Later, if the couple decides to divorce, there are restrictions, while a couple who enters into a non-covenant marriage can divorce or separate without cause.
Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana are the only three states in the United States that one can obtain a covenant marriage.
Most people who enter into a covenant marriage do so for religious reasons. However, before a covenant marriage, both parties must understand the full extent of their commitment.
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Why Do People Choose Covenant Marriage?
People choose covenant marriages for several reasons. Many churches recognize one wedding in the church. It is against church doctrine to get divorced, so choosing a covenant marriage is in line with those teachings.
Couples who want to memorialize the seriousness of their commitment to each other and their marriage might choose a covenant marriage, which requires specific reasons, counseling, and/or waiting periods before a judge grants a divorce.
Divorce rates are rising, and some people believe covenant marriages are the answer. If a couple has to try at least to work through difficult times, they might stick with each other.
Often bad times pass, so giving things time to cool off is not a bad idea either.
Picking a covenant marriage is not a decision you should make lightly, though. If things do not work out, your divorce will take longer.
That is not what any bride or groom-to-be wants to think about, but there is some information about the covenant marriage divorce laws you need to know upfront.
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Requirements Before Entering Into a Covenant Marriage
Arizona covenant marriage law states couples must meet prerequisites before they wed.
The requirements are in place to prevent divorces and understand the seriousness of entering into a covenant marriage. The couple must fulfill all of the requirements before entering into the marriage.
Attend Marriage Counseling
Before entering a covenant marriage, couples in Arizona must seek counseling premarital counseling from a marriage counselor or member of the clergy. During the counseling sessions, the expert gives both participants information on the seriousness of a covenant marriage, communication of the fact that a covenant marriage is for life, a discussion of the marital counseling requirement in times of difficulties, and the limited reasons for leaving a covenant marriage.
This information is delivered via discussion and an informational pamphlet that was developed by the Arizona Supreme Court.
One of the critical aspects of this counseling is to make sure the couple understands that covenant marriage is a lifelong commitment and the limited exclusive grounds for legally terminating the marriage.
The only exception to this premarital counseling requirement is for couples who are converting a non-covenant marriage to a covenant marriage.
Apply for a Marriage License
After attending premarital counseling, you must apply for a marriage license if you wish to enter into a covenant marriage.
However, applying for a covenant marriage license differs from that of a non-covenant or traditional marriage license.
Your application for a covenant marriage license must include a declaration of intentions, as well as an attestation affidavit from your professional marriage counselor.
You can find out how to apply for a covenant marriage license by contacting the superior court in the county where you reside.
On the marriage license, the couple must state that they intend to enter into a covenant marriage. There is a precise statement called a Declaration of Intention that has to be included on the license.
The statement essentially says:
- Both parties agree to enter into a covenant marriage
- They agree that a covenant marriage is between two people who intend to spend their entire life together
- They understand the responsibilities of marriage, and if they have marital problems, they will make reasonable efforts to work through them
The marriage license application must also include the sworn and notarized attestation from the clergy member or licensed marriage counselor.
The Covenant Marriage Pre-marital Counseling Affidavit states:
- The counselor discussed the importance of marriage
- Covenant marriage is a lifetime commitment
- The couple understands they must seek counseling for marital difficulties
- There are limited reasons the couple can leave the covenant marriage
- The professional marriage counselor or clergy member provided both parties with the covenant marriage informational pamphlet and reviewed it with them
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Limited Reasons for Leaving a Covenant Marriage
Another significant difference in covenant marriages is that there are limited reasons for divorce.
Divorce laws that govern traditional marriages allow for no-fault divorces. In a no-fault divorce, a couple can dissolve their union without wrongdoing from either party.
However, no-fault divorces are not available for covenant marriages. Instead, the couple must prove to the court there is a lawful reason to leave the union.
Reasons a couple can legally separate or divorce if they enter into a covenant marriage are:
- The non-filing spouse committed adultery
- The non-filing spouse committed a felony and received prison or a death sentence
- The non-filing spouse abandoned the marital home for more than one year
- The non-filing spouse committed domestic violence, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse towards the petitioning spouse or their children
- The couple has lived separately for at least two years
- A superior court previously granted the couple a legal separation, and they have not lived together in their marital home for more than one year
- Both spouses agree to the divorce (if a spouse contests the divorce it will prolong the process.)
- The non-filing spouse abuses alcohol and/or drugs, and living with them is unhealthy.
With a covenant marriage, you must make a reasonable effort to resolve your marital difficulties, including attending marriage counseling before a judge will grant your divorce.
If your spouse moves out of your marital home and you do not know where they are, and you do not expect them back within two years, a judge might allow you to file your divorce, but you will still have to wait the two year period before it is finalized but this route should be discussed with an experienced family law attorney.
Additionally, if you file for divorce stating that your spouse abuses alcohol and emotionally abuses you, your spouse has the opportunity to respond. If they agree to the allegations, the judge will grant your divorce.
However, if they respond contesting the allegations, the judge will likely require that you provide evidence to prove the allegations before a divorce is granted.
Converting a Traditional Marriage to a Covenant Marriage
Covenant marriages became lawful, on August 21, 1998, in Arizona. If you got married in Arizona before, August 21, 1998, your marriage is a non-covenant marriage.
Married couples do have the option of converting their non-covenant marriage to a covenant marriage. However, couples who are in a covenant marriage are not able to turn their marriage to a non-covenant marriage.
To convert a traditional marriage to a covenant marriage, the couple must pay a fee to the appropriate court and submit:
- A Declaration of Intent, like the one unmarried people, must submit on the marriage license application.
- The location and date of the couple’s wedding
If you wish to convert your marriage to a covenant marriage, check with the superior court in your jurisdiction. Some courts have pre-printed forms to make the process simpler.
You can contact the superior court in the county where you live for more information.
Important Covenant Marriage Information
Before entering into a covenant marriage, you must have full knowledge of the restrictions and limitations of this type of marriage.
Below are some critical facts about covenant marriages that you should review:
- Only one to two percent of couples in Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana choose covenant marriages
- There are limited reasons you can leave your covenant marriage
- Arizona state law requires all couples entering into a covenant marriage to review the Arizona Covenant Marriage informational pamphlet
- Getting a divorce after a covenant marriage does not affect divorce laws governing spousal support, child support, custody of minor children, and the division of marital assets.
What to Do If You Want to Leave a Covenant Marriage
Couples enter into covenant marriages because they desire to be married to the same partner for life.
However, it is not always possible to stay married to a spouse.
If your spouse is abusive, if they abandon the marital home, or if other extenuating circumstances surround the marriage, you may have the ability to leave the union.
If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what you should do:
- Document ill treatment, sexual abuse, domestic violence
- Document all marriage counseling you receive
- Document all essential dates
- Document all circumstances that support your grounds for divorce
If both parties agree about the divorce, the process might be easier. If the other party does not want a divorce, you must prove there are legal grounds for the legal separation or dissolution of marriage.
Lastly, when you wish to end your covenant marriage, contact a knowledgeable family law attorney.
Receiving legal advice from an attorney familiar with covenant marriages can help you properly petition the court and get on the proper track.
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