"Since its inception, covenant marriage has created controversy.
Supporters think covenant marriage inspires confidence in marriage, nurtures
commitment, protects children, and counters a divorce culture.... However,
others argue that covenant marriage has created a variety of dilemmas for
modern marriage and marriage law." 6
"Covenant married couples have less complicated union and parenthood
histories, are far more religious and traditional in attitudes, and engage
in more premarital counseling and more positive conflict resolution
strategies. Most important, they have substantially different attitudes
about gender, the centrality of marriage, and the social duty to bear
A study of covenant marriage in Louisiana:
The Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University
issued a report in 2002-JUN containing the results of their study of covenant
marriage (CM). They compared a group of
covenant and "standard married" newlywed couples in Louisiana. The Center
studied 538 couples who married in the state during 1999 and 2000 -- two to three
years after Louisiana activated its CM law.
In their review of the literature, they found that some investigators have concerns about CM.
Some have suggested that:
Marital counseling requirements, lengthy waiting intervals, and the
expectation that the couple will remain together at all costs places spouses
and children in a failing marriage at greater risk for abuse.
CM may reinstate the worst features of
CM may create a "conflict of laws" problem: one state's CM
legislation may or may not be recognized when couples relocate to a different
state. If other states acknowledge the U.S. Constitution's full "faith and
credit" clause then they would have to enforce a CM even if contracted in
another state. This may result in a precedent that could eventually lead to interstate recognition of
-- a possibility that most CM supporters are very strongly opposed to.
The entire rationale behind CM is that a couple cannot easily obtain a
However, a CM spouse
can simply go to another state to divorce. This could bypass many of the
features of CM in their state of residence, such as long waiting times,
the requirement for counseling, etc. More affluent couples could easily exercise
this loophole; poorer couples might find it difficult.
If there are two types of marriages, individuals and groups
might pursue still other forms of marriages or unions in the future.
Divorce based on marriage breakdown and separation might take
considerable time to complete. This might delay spousal
and child support, leaving some spouses and children in poverty.
CM couples whose marriage has broken down may try to feign adultery or
some other fault-based activity in order to get a faster divorce.
When spouses, their lawyers and the court concentrate on assigning fault
or moral blame for the failure of the marriage, they may be distracted from
more important issues, like custody arrangements for children and the
division of assets.
Legislators might concentrate on creating CM legislation and thereby
ignore other approaches that might have a greater effect reducing divorce
rates. e.g. offering incentives for pre-marital counseling, courses in
communication, courses in marital skills, etc.
There are major arguments suggested in favor of CM:
Couples entering a CM will be inclined to take the marriage more
seriously, because the procedure is more demanding and involved.
Couples whose marriages are in difficulty will find that the legislation
and their promises will make separation and divorce more difficult. They
will probably feel pressured into making greater effort to preserve the marriage.
CM may lower, not raise, the level of family violence because the abusing spouse will be
shamed for his/her actions during counseling.
The Center's study, and others, found that the couples who chose CM had similar
childhood and economic histories, age, education, courtship experiences. But the covenant and standard
married couples differed in most of the other factors studied.
Covenant married couples, on average, when compared to standard married couples:
Are younger: wives by two years and husbands by three years.
Have greater educational attainment.
Are less likely to have lived together before marriage (27% vs. 64%).
Have less complicated union and parenthood histories.
Are much less likely to bring children into the new marriage.
Are more likely to have received initial support from friends and family
when the announced their engagement.
Are more likely to have engaged in premarital counseling (99% vs. 46%).
Have developed more effective conflict resolution strategies.
Are far more religious.
They consider that religion plays a more important and central role in their life.
They are less likely to be Roman Catholic (30%
vs. 69%). This difference may be due to the Church's initial opposition to
CM because the law required counselors to discuss grounds for divorce during
They are more likely to be Baptist or other Protestant.
Find that their spouse is less likely to act with sarcasm or hostility.
Are far more traditional in beliefs.
Are more likely to believe that men and
women are to play different roles in marriage.
Feel a greater social duty to bear children.
Feel that when they enter a CM they are making a political and moral statement to
The researchers conclude that the future will show that covenant marriage may
be associated with lower divorce rates. However, an increase in success at
marriage may be unrelated to the legal requirements of CM. It may be because
couples entering a covenant marriage are quite different from those entering a
"standard" marriage. They write:
"At the moment, covenant marriage appeals to
a small, distinct group who differ in important ways from the average person
approaching marriage. Based on the evidence we have at the moment, there is
little to suggest that covenant marriage will soon appeal to a larger, more
"Is Covenant Marriage a Policy that Preaches to the Choir? A
Comparison of Covenant and Standard Married Newlywed Couples in Louisiana,"
Center for Family and Demograhich Research, Bowling Green State University,
http://www.bgsu.edu/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
Katherine Spaht & Symeon C. Symeonides, "Covenant Marriage and the
Law of Conflicts of Laws." 1999, Creighton Law Review: 32.