What are Covenant Marriages and Do I Want One?

Some marrying spouses take their marriage vows seriously: they truly pledge themselves to remain married to their spouse “for better or for worse, till death do [them] part.” Whether this philosophy is rooted in the person’s religious background and upbringing or whether it originates from some other source, these spouses may feel as if the traditional civil marriage process does not completely reflect the solemnity and permanency of their vows. Since 1998, Arizona has offered these couples the option of entering into a “covenant marriage.”

At first, the concept of a “covenant” marriage may seem appealing to some with a strong religious background or upbringing (the term “covenant” is simply another word for “promise” but it has strong religious overtones). While entering into a covenant marriage is certainly one way to demonstrate the seriousness of your commitment to your spouse, obtaining a covenant marriage – and getting out of a covenant marriage, if necessary – are not simple tasks.

Getting Into a Covenant Marriage

In order to enter into a covenant marriage, both spouses must first meet the basic requirements regarding age and capacity. In requesting and completing a marriage license, the spouses must clearly indicate their intention to enter into a covenant marriage. This intention is reflected in a written declaration to which each spouse must attest. The declaration will usually contain:

  • Specific language detailing that each spouse understands that a covenant marriage is for life, that each spouse has received premarital counseling, and that each spouse commits to seeking assistance from marriage counseling and therapy and other resources if difficulties in the marriage arrive. Each spouse commits to taking every and all reasonable measures to preserve the marriage.
  • An attestation from each spouse indicating that they have received premarital counseling from a religious leader or marriage counselor. Part of the premarital counseling must include a discussion as to the nature of a covenant marriage and the limited grounds available for dissolving such a marriage.
  • Notarized signatures of both of the spouses as well as the counselor or religious leader that provided the premarital counseling. The counselor’s or religious leader’s signature must be accompanied by a declaration that he or she counseled the spouses about the nature of a covenant marriage and that legal information published by the Arizona Supreme Court was provided to the spouses.

If these requirements are met, then upon the spouses’ exchange of nuptials they will have entered into a covenant marriage.

Those who are already married are also able to convert their existing valid marriage into a covenant marriage by paying a fee, submitting a signed and notarized statement similar to the statement unmarried individuals seeking a covenant marriage must submit, and a sworn statement listing their names as well as the date and place of their marriage. This information is submitted to the couple’s local Clerk of the Superior Court.

Ending a Covenant Marriage

A couple that has entered into a covenant marriage will have a difficult time obtaining a decree of divorce from the court. In order to dissolve a covenant marriage, the party requesting the dissolution must show the other spouse has committed:

  • Adultery;
  • A felony resulting in a sentence of death or imprisonment;
  • Abandonment of the spouse for a period of one year;
  • Acts of physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence;
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs;

Covenant marriages can also be dissolved in Arizona if the spouses have lived separate and apart from one another for two years (one year if the spouses have already obtained a legal separation from a court.) Finally, a covenant marriage can be dissolved if both spouses agree to a divorce.

In other words, in a covenant marriage one spouse cannot apply for a divorce and cite irreconcilable differences and thereafter obtain a divorce without the consent of the other spouse.

How an Arizona Family Law Attorney Can Help

Patrick Monahan of the Monahan Law Firm, PLC can discuss with you the legal benefits and drawbacks of a covenant marriage so you are able to make an informed choice. If you are looking to end your covenant marriage, he can evaluate your situation and, if eligible, he can help you dissolve a covenant marriage. Contact his office at (623) 385-3190.



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