Covenant Marriage

A new type of marriage contract helps divorce-proof love.

By Kaja Perina, published on March 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 20, 2005

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.

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."