Some people feel couples would stay married if marriages were harder to end. Laws in three states, including Louisiana, are testing that theory. Couples with covenant marriages take extra steps to get married and stay married, including forfeiting the right to obtain a no-fault divorce.
Covenant marriages, designed to drive down the divorce rate, have been available in Louisiana since 1997. Baton Rouge couples who enter into matrimony this way declare formally they intend to stay with spouses for life. The parties are obligated to undergo before-marriage counseling and seek professional guidance, if the union becomes troubled.
Legal paperwork includes the couple's Declarations of Intent. A counselor backs this with an affidavit showing the couple understands the obligations of a covenant marriage. Leaving is more difficult for spouses bound by covenant marriages than other married couples.
Couples in covenant marriages agree to seek marital counseling, hoping to preserve the relationship, before separation or divorce. The spouses also have fewer legal options to dissolve the marriage. Fault may be established to end any Louisiana marriage, in addition to the no-fault option but, in covenant separations and divorce, fault is almost mandatory.
For legal separations, one spouse must be guilty of adultery, child or spouse abuse, mistreatment or cruelty, imprisonment for a felony conviction or substance abuse. Informal separation is a qualifier for couples living apart a minimum of two years. Divorce standards incorporate many of the same provisions, along with abandonment and conditional time periods between legal separation and divorce.
According to a report in bestofneworleans.com, covenant marriages are not as popular as legislators thought they might be. Almost a dozen years after the law was enacted, only about two percent of Louisiana marriages were covenants. Additionally, the divorce rate increased.
Family law attorneys can provide further details about the requirements to end fault, no-fault and covenant marriages, plus rules governing child and property issues.
Source: Department of Health & Hospitals, State of Louisiana, "Covenant Marriage" Oct. 08, 2014