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Originally Posted On: https://thevalleylawgroup.com/blog/covenant-marriage-az/
In Arizona, two types of marital unions are available for couples. The first option is traditional marriage, which is the standard procedure for marriage most couples choose. The second option is what’s known as a covenant marriage.
What is a Covenant Marriage?
A covenant marriage is a type of marriage in which the couple makes a commitment to each other and to their marriage, usually promising to stay together even in difficult times. In some states, couples must receive special counseling before entering into a covenant marriage and may need to appear in court for additional requirements. Unlike traditional marriages which can be dissolved easily, covenant marriages are harder to dissolve and require specific reasons for divorce
Is Covenant Marriage Legal in Arizona?
First, it’s important to stress that covenant marriage is only legal in three states: Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas. This type of marriage has only been legal in this state since August 21, 1998. Couples who married prior to this date can convert their traditional marriage to a covenant marriage if they so choose. However, couples who chose a covenant marriage after 1998 cannot convert to a traditional marriage.
What Is the Purpose of Covenant Marriage?
A covenant marriage establishes additional requirements that must be met before a couple is officially married in Arizona. If the couple later chooses to divorce, the unique stipulations of a covenant marriage mean the divorce process becomes much more difficult compared to a couple who chose a traditional marriage. There are specific legal requirements that must be met before a couple in a covenant marriage can be granted a divorce in Arizona.
Many couples who choose a covenant marriage make this particular choice based on religious reasons. Covenant marriages are often meant to show how committed the couple is to one other. Since this commitment is key to those who prefer a covenant marriage, this type of marriage also restricts the situations in which the couple can divorce.
Should a couple want to work through stressful times rather than divorce, a covenant marriage may be a more appealing option. Many people think covenant marriages can reduce divorce rates by encouraging a stronger commitment before the marriage occurs and requiring additional steps before divorce is possible.
Many couples who align themselves with certain churches seek a covenant marriage for the reasons listed above. These churches may encourage covenant marriage, as well. However, any couple may enter a covenant marriage.
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Prerequisites for a Covenant Marriage in AZ
So, exactly what is the difference between a traditional marriage and a covenant marriage? The most important differences are the specific prerequisites that must be met before entering or dissolving a covenant marriage. With a traditional marriage, the process of getting married and divorcing is much simpler.
To enter a covenant marriage, couples must complete the following steps:
Every couple looking to proceed with a covenant marriage must attend counseling provided by a marriage counselor or a clergy member. Counseling includes discussions of the importance of covenant marriage and how it is meant to be a commitment for life. Counselors are also required to discuss the requirements for dissolving a covenant marriage. This counseling is designed to ensure both people understand how serious this decision is while ensuring they both understand how this marriage can be terminated.
Apply for a Marriage License
After premarital counseling is complete, the couple can apply for a marriage license. As with traditional marriage, both people must be at least 18 years old and have a valid, government-issued ID. However, there are additional requirements that couples seeking a covenant marriage must meet beyond those of a traditional marriage.
When applying for a marriage license, the couple must declare their intentions to enter a covenant marriage. A specific statement called the Declaration of Intention must be included in this license application. This statement declares that each member of the couple agrees to a covenant marriage; both parties understand that the union is meant for two parties who intend to marry for life; and that both will put in the effort to stay together through difficult times.
The last step couples must complete also takes place when applying for a marriage license. The couple must submit a notarized attestation from their licensed marriage counselor or clergy member. This is to confirm that the couple completed premarital counseling and understands the seriousness of this type of marriage. The affidavit also states that couples:
- Discussed the sanctity of marriage with the counselor
- Understand that covenant marriages are a commitment for life
- Understand that they should seek marriage counseling for difficulties
- Understand there are only a few reasons they can seek divorce
- Reviewed the covenant marriage pamphlet with the counselor or the member of the clergy marrying them
Dissolving a Covenant Marriage in AZ
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While covenant marriages are designed to impart the importance of lifetime commitment, there are reasons that are acceptable for terminating this type of marriage. However, unlike traditional marriages, there must be a legally acceptable reason to end the marriage. Although Arizona is a no-fault state, no-fault divorces don’t apply to covenant marriages.
These are the only reasons covenant marriages can be dissolved:
- One spouse was unfaithful.
- One spouse was convicted of a serious crime resulting in prison time or the death penalty.
- One spouse is misusing drugs or alcohol, which is creating a dangerous living situation for the other spouse and their children.
- One spouse left the home for over a year.
- One spouse perpetrated domestic violence, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse toward the other spouse or children in the home.
- The spouses were previously granted legal separation by the court/ have been separated for at least one year from the date of this legal separation.
- The couple has been separated for at least two years.
- Each spouse agrees to a divorce.
In a covenant marriage, there must be a clear attempt by both parties to resolve the difficulties in the marriage, including attending marriage counseling. Also, if a spouse files for divorce, claiming their partner is at fault, the partner can respond to the allegations. If they deny the allegations, this can significantly lengthen the divorce process, as the filing spouse must provide evidence for their claim.
In addition, both spouses must agree to divorce. If one spouse refuses, this will prolong the process and prevent the divorce from proceeding. As covenant marriages are about working through challenging times rather than divorcing outright, one person disagreeing with the divorce can prevent progress.
Should a couple wish to legally separate rather than divorce in a covenant marriage, there are certain guidelines that must be followed. Most requirements that are grounds for filing for divorce apply to separation as well. Those in a covenant marriage must be experiencing at least one approved set of circumstances to separate.
For example, if the non-filing spouse commits adultery, commits domestic violence, commits another crime that leads to death or imprisonment, regularly abuses alcohol or drugs and creates an unhealthy living situation, or leaves the marital home and refuses to return, then the partner can file for either divorce or separation. If the spouses were separated for at least two years without getting back together, this is also grounds for filing for legal separation.
Ending a Covenant Marriage
In a traditional marriage, you have very little standing in your way of divorce. By contrast, couples in covenant marriages must experience specific situations to file for divorce. However, divorce is not impossible. If a spouse is abusive or abandons the marital home, you may be able to leave the marriage.
If this is the case, you’ll need to provide documentation, including the following:
- Dates of events
- Details of emotional or sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence
- Dates of all marriage counseling you and your partner attended
- All other evidence that supports your case for divorce
If both parties agree to the divorce, the process becomes simpler. However, if your partner doesn’t want to proceed with a divorce, you’ll need proof of mistreatment, abandonment, and more. In this case, it is crucial you speak with a family law firm so they can help you understand your rights and defend you in court. Without legal assistance, the process of dissolving any marriage can become more complex and emotionally driven.
Converting a Traditional Marriage to a Covenant Marriage
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If a couple proceeds with a covenant marriage, they cannot change their agreement to a non-covenant one. However, if a couple originally chose a traditional marriage and wish to convert it to a covenant one, they can. This mostly applies to couples who married in Arizona prior to August 21, 1998, but couples who entered a traditional marriage after this date can still apply for a covenant marriage.
To do so, these couples must complete the following steps:
- Pay a fee to a superior court.
- Submit a declaration of intent on the marriage license
- Submit the location and date of the couple’s wedding
Once these are submitted to a superior court, a judge can evaluate your case and proceed with the conversion. Some courts may have pre-printed forms available to simplify the process, but this isn’t guaranteed. Should you have any questions or concerns along the way, speak with a family law attorney immediately.
Arizona Covenant Marriage FAQs
Covenant marriages can be a great option for couples looking to show their lifetime commitment to one another. However, the process can be complex, and should one or both spouses want to terminate the marriage, there are many hurdles the couple must navigate.
Here are some additional questions couples may ask about covenant marriage.
How Much Is a Covenant Marriage License in Arizona? The fee for a covenant marriage license in Arizona is $83. If a couple wishes to convert their traditional marriage to a covenant one, the fee is $30.
What Are the Benefits of a Covenant Marriage? Covenant marriages require premarital counseling, which may help avoid relationship issues as the marriage proceeds. Also, covenant marriages are intended to show how committed both spouses are to each other, which can strengthen their bond and prevent problems in the future. With both partners agreeing to work through stressful times rather than divorce, this may make the marriage stronger and divorce less likely.
Are There Disadvantages to a Covenant Marriage? Yes, there are some drawbacks to covenant marriages. Should the couple wish to divorce, the process is much more difficult. Also, there must be a reason for the couple wanting to divorce, as no-fault divorces cannot apply to covenant marriages. The process for divorce from a covenant marriage can also be more costly than a traditional marriage, as these divorces take longer to evaluate and finalize.
What Are the Counseling Requirements for a Covenant Marriage? The covenant marriage requirements state that premarital counseling must be performed prior to applying for a marriage license. The counseling must be done by a professional marriage counselor or a member of the clergy. The counselor also must describe in complete detail the importance of this type of marriage as well as the grounds for terminating the marriage. When complete, the counselor will sign an affidavit that is submitted alongside the marriage license.
Expert Insight Regarding Covenant Marriage in Arizona
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Marriage and divorce are complex issues that are difficult to navigate on your own, especially when it comes to a covenant marriage. There are many factors involved that can be easily overlooked, which is why it is highly recommended to speak with a family lawyer. A skilled attorney can help you determine whether a covenant marriage is best for your situation, what you must do to dissolve a covenant marriage and many other aspects of this type of marriage.
Whether you choose covenant marriage or traditional marriage, creating a legal union between two people can be a complicated process. Fortunately, our team at The Valley Law Group can help. We work diligently with clients to ensure they understand their rights when it comes to marriage, divorce, and other aspects of family law. Our attorneys at The Valley Law Group have over 60 years of collective experience working with clients looking to marry or divorce. We have a deep understanding of Arizona divorce and family law and we’re prepared to assist you.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact our team today.