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What is a Covenant Marriage? (And Why Would Couples Choose One?)

Published Wednesday, Jan. 12th, 2022

Covenant marriage is so uncommon that many people have never even heard of it. In fact, fewer than 5% of couples in the US choose a covenant marriage, and most experts put that number at closer to 1%. 


And with so few celebrity covenant marriages (as opposed to, say, celebrity Scientology marriages or confidential marriages), these agreements rarely make it into the spotlight. 


It can make them feel downright mysterious, even though, really, it’s just another type of marriage contract. 


So, what is this uncommon marriage practice, and why do people choose it? 



What is a covenant marriage?


Covenant marriages are a legally distinct type of marriage contract. They have very limited grounds for divorce, making them more difficult to end, and additional requirements for premarital counseling and couple’s counseling to resolve domestic difficulties. These unions appeal to religiously minded couples and those who want a more binding legal contract. 


Covenant marriage licenses are only available in a few states -- Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana -- and are usually entered into for religious reasons. It’s estimated that only 1 - 2% of couples in these states choose covenant marriages. 


To learn more about how to apply for a covenant marriage license, or for tips on how to officiate a covenant marriage ceremony, read: 


An Officiant’s Guide to Covenant Marriages




Pros and Cons of covenant marriage 


Pros: Couples opposed to divorce or whose religious doctrine doesn’t allow divorce are more likely to choose covenant marriages. For these couples, covenant marriage provides the security and comfort of an (almost) unbreakable promise. Likewise, the emphasis on counseling and effort to resolve conflicts, rather than end the marriage, align with their personal or spiritual values. 


Cons: Leaving a covenant marriage is a long and costly process. There are strict requirements for marital counseling and limited reasons for divorce (for example, a partner must prove adultery, ongoing addictions, domestic violence or abuse, abandonment, or other specific reasons to leave). There’s no option for a no-fault divorce in a covenant marriage. 



Covenant marriage in the spotlight


Covenant marriages make up a very small percentage of marriages in the US and are rarely in the media spotlight. 


Derick and Jill (Duggar) Dilliard are one of the few celebrity couples known to be in a covenant marriage. When the devout Baptist couple married in Arkansas in 2014, during their time on the reality show 19 Kids and Counting, the term ‘covenant marriage’ started popping up in shiny gossip mag headlines everywhere, possibly for the first time ever. 


This lack of celebrity endorsement is not surprising, perhaps, as covenant marriages are often touted by religious organizations as an antidote to the US’ high divorce rate and the supposed evils of frequent ‘failed’ celebrity marriages.


Currently, only 3 states offer a covenant marriage license, but other states have considered adding these provisions to their state laws. In recent years, legislation for covenant marriages has been introduced in Oklahoma and Missouri



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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