Covenant Marriage

It's not easy to break a covenant. Grounds for divorce in a covenant marriage are limited to abuse or adultery; otherwise couples must seek counseling and wait two years, as opposed to the six-to-12-month separation that is imposed in no-fault divorces. The "marriage movement," as proponents of covenant marriage are known, hope that the legal and moral imperatives of this union, currently on the books in three states and under consideration in 20 more, will guarantee happily ever after.

Researchers led by Steven Nock, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, are tracking 600 newly married couples, of whom half are bound by covenant. Now two years into the five-year study, covenant marriages account for only one-fourth of approximately 50 divorces.

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Nock and his colleagues recently surveyed 1,324 people about marriage reform in Michigan, Louisiana and Arizona. The latter two permit covenant marriage, as does Arkansas.

Sixty percent of respondents agreed that more stringent requirements for divorce would improve society, but only 39 percent strongly supported covenant marriage. Nine out of 10 respondents favored marital counseling, but measures like waiting periods for divorce were less popular. Results will be published in the journal Family Relations later this year.

Covenant marriage is more than a backlash against consistently high divorce rates. Today's newlyweds were raised by baby boomers who stressed contraception and equality between the sexes, a radical marital change for women, if not for men. "When one partner lives very differently from their mother or grandmother, you expect a lot of change from generation to generation," explains Nock.

Covenant couples tend to be conservative and religious. But "the greatest overriding difference is a certainty that this relationship is the right one," says Nock. "Whether that's why they're in covenant marriages or [the reason is] some underlying thing about covenant marriage remains to be seen."

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