December 5, 2001
Promoted mainly by evangelical Christians, covenant marriages bar divorce except under extreme circumstances like adultery, abandonment or in the words of the Arkansas law, "cruel and barbarous treatment."
Such unions require counseling before taking marital vows or divorcing. And for cases that would correspond to current no-fault divorces, they extend the waiting time to up to two-and-a-half years.
- In August, Arkansas became the third state to adopt a covenant marriage law, after Arizona in 1999 and Louisiana two years earlier.
- Fewer than 3 percent of couples who marry in Louisiana and Arizona take on the extra restrictions of marriage by covenant.
- However, covenant marriage bills have been proposed in more than 20 states and are under consideration in the Michigan and Iowa Legislatures.
Interest grew after federal welfare reform when states moved to tackle the two biggest determinants of poverty -- divorce and births out of wedlock -- says Steven Knock, who is conducting a five-year study comparing relationships in covenant and standard marriages.
States are also offering incentives for premarital counseling and marriage education courses in an effort to reduce divorce, which has grown from a rate of 2.9 divorces per 1,000 Americans in 1968 to 4.2 per 1,000 in 1998.
So far, Knock and other researchers have found that couples who choose covenant marriages have higher incomes and more education than other couples, are deeply connected to their churches, and have fewer unresolved problems.
And though the research is still early, so far, four times more standard couples in the study have divorced, says Knock.
Source: Diana Jean Schemo, "In Covenant Marriage, Forging Ties That Bind," New York Times, November 10, 2001.
For NY Times text
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