In 2001, Arkansas became the third state, along with Louisiana and Arizona, to offer a Covenant Marriage (CM) option for married couples who want to convert their marriage license to a Covenant Marriage License.
Arkansas’ Covenant Marriage law offers couples the freedom to choose to be held to a higher level of marital commitment. Couples choosing a Covenant Marriage will take extra steps of preparation for a lifelong commitment. Couples must receive marriage counseling prior to receiving a marriage license, including a discussion of the seriousness of Covenant Marriage. There is no minimum number of counseling hours required and the content of the counseling is not specified, except that the responsibilities of CM are to be explained.
Additionally, these couples will agree, up-front, that if their marriage should ever run into trouble, they will seek marriage counseling before a divorce will be granted. While couples are still required to take “reasonable” steps to preserve their marriage, including marriage counseling, nothing in the bill requires couples to seek counseling together so people in abusive relationships won’t be trapped.
Both pre-marital counseling and marriage counseling can be provided by any clergy of any religious sect or a designated representative, a marriage educator approved by the person performing the marriage, licensed professional counselors and associate counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, associate marriage and family therapists, and licensed clinical psychologists.
Additionally, Covenant Marriages offer more limited grounds for divorce. Couples in a Covenant Marriage will not be able to seek divorce based on the ground of general indignities. If “separation” is the ground for divorce under a Covenant Marriage, couples will have to live separate and apart for a greater length of time before seeking divorce. Under the current law, couples must live separate and apart for eighteen continuous months without cohabitation. That is increased to two years for a Covenant Marriage couple and two and half years if the couple has minor children.
Under a Covenant Marriage, a couple may seek divorce only after receiving counseling and only for the following reasons:
- Adultery by the other spouse
- Commission of a felony or other infamous crime by the other spouse
- Physical or sexual abuse of the spouse or of a child of either spouse
Additionally, Covenant Marriage couples may divorce following a period of separation:
- The spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for two years.
- If there are minor children involved, the couple must have been living separate and apart for two years and six months from the date the judgment for judicial separation was signed. If abuse of a child was the basis for judicial separation, the couple must live separate and apart for only one year from the date the judgment was signed.
Converting Existing marriages to Covenant Marriage
Already-married couples have the option of converting their marriages to Covenant Marriage. To do so, couples will first consult a counselor, including a minister or designated layperson, to become informed about the requirements and responsibilities of Covenant Marriage. Couples converting to a Covenant Marriage will voluntarily subject themselves to the limited divorce grounds and counseling requirements.
This process is the same for all married couples, regardless the state through which their marriage license was issued.
Please Be Advised
The State of Arkansas does not issue a new license certificate for married couples who are converting their existing license, although the transition will be registered by the state and all provisions will apply.