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Covenant Marriage

Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America

Steven L. Nock
Laura Ann Sanchez
James D. Wright
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Covenant Marriage
    Book Description:

    Regardless how you interpret the statistics, the divorce rate in the United States is staggering. But, what if thegovernmentcould change this? Would families be better off if new public policies made it more difficult for couples to separate?

    This book explores a movement that emerged over the past fifteen years, which aims to do just that. Guided by certain politicians and religious leaders who herald marriage as a solution to a range of longstanding social problems, a handful of state governments enacted "covenant marriage" laws, which require couples to choose between a conventional and a covenant marriage. While the familiar type of union requires little effort to enter and can be terminated by either party unilaterally, covenant marriage requires premarital counseling, an agreement bound by fault-based rules or lengthy waiting periods to exit, and a legal stipulation that divorce can be granted only after the couple has received counseling.

    Drawing on interviews with over 700 couples-half of whom have chosen covenant unions-this book not only evaluates the viability of public policy in the intimate affairs of marriage, it also explores how growing public discourse is causing men and women to rethink the meaning of marriage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4649-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Chapter 1 Covenant Marriage and the Marriage Movement
    (pp. 1-20)

    Earlier in this century, divorce was rare and carried a burdensome stigma. For children, divorce brought the shame of a “broken home,” and for adults, the suspicion of infi delity and moral failure. Back then, marriage for most was for better or for worse, “until death do us part.”

    By the 1980s and 1990s, this social landscape had changed. Divorce had become commonplace; in fact, it was so routine that more marriages were ending in divorce than in death or widowhood (Bongaarts and Watkins 1996). The relatively new idea of equality between men and women was increasingly reflected in everyday...

  6. Chapter 2 Covenant Marriage in Louisiana: Legal and Historical Background
    (pp. 21-39)

    To our knowledge, the first covenant marriage proposal was introduced by Henri Mazeaud in France in 1945 (Dalloz 1945, 11–12). At the time, the French Civil Code was being revised, and Mazeaud proposed a unique solution to the debate:

    The French family is … an ephemeral group. It is broken up at the whim of its members. Marriage, which founds it, is provisional. It endures as long as the happiness of the spouses endures. Divorce is there in order to rupture marriage.

    Everything has been said in order to defend and to combat divorce. The debate is irritating, because...

  7. Chapter 3 The Implementation of Covenant Marriage in Louisiana
    (pp. 40-61)

    It is pretty obvious what covenant marriage supporters wanted to happen as the innovation made its way from a relatively high-profile piece of legislation to the daily humdrum of office routine in parish clerks of court offices across the state. Although a choice, it was a choice that the policy’s sponsor and author hoped every marrying couple would make. When approaching marriage, which form would the couple select?

    Indeed, it was clear even in the early going that one of the hoped-for effects of covenant marriage was to deter otherwise doomed marriages. The intent, or perhaps we should say the...

  8. Chapter 4 Who Wants a Covenant Marriage?
    (pp. 62-77)

    Although the implementation research described in chapter 3 was an important component in our covenant marriage research agenda, the centerpiece of that agenda was our longitudinal (panel) survey of newlyweds in Louisiana. Between 1999 and 2004, we surveyed about six hundred recently married couples (or approximately 1,200 individuals) three times: once within three to six months of their marriage, on average (wave 1), then again at roughly the two-year mark (wave 2), and finally at approximately the five-year milestone (wave 3). About one-half of the couples we surveyed were covenant couples and the other half had standard marriages. Statewide, about...

  9. Chapter 5 The Role of Religion in Covenant and Standard Marriages
    (pp. 78-97)
    Jill A. Deines

    The purpose of this chapter is to explore how our couples perceive the role of religion in their marriages, as well as their responsibilities as pro-marriage advocates. Since the inception of covenant marriage in 1997, the large majority who elect covenant marriages have been conservative evangelical Protestants. Standard marriages, however, contain large numbers of devoutly religious people as well. Still, as we show in this chapter, the covenants attach uniquely sacred and religious meanings to their marriages, sanctify marriage in general, and demonize divorce (tending literally to view divorce as the Devil’s handiwork). Although many married people are religious, covenant...

  10. Chapter 6 The Ongoing Marriage
    (pp. 98-115)

    The first few years of marriage demand changes and adjustments for most couples. Partners need to reconcile their individual beliefs and concerns and coordinate their public lives and responsibilities. Not only are the partners different individuals, each with personal values and beliefs, but they are also members of various formal and informal organizations such as work, hobbies, clubs, and congregations. Somehow, all these individual differences and commitments must be united into a harmonious, functioning whole.

    Some couples manage to merge their lives without much difficulty, but others face significant challenges, and often fail. Although the “merger challenge” is something couples...

  11. Chapter 7 Divorce, Religiosity, and Counseling
    (pp. 116-140)

    The greatest success that any component of the marriage movement could possibly show would be a reduction in divorce rates. This chapter uses information collected in our surveys to compare divorce rates for standard and covenant couples, and draws on our qualitative interviews to fill in some important details. We pay particular attention to the role of religion in sustaining marriage in the face of troubles because this theme was so forcefully evident in all previous analyses. We also consider the role that marital counseling plays in preventing divorce, both before marriage (premarital counseling) and during the marriage (marriage counseling)....

  12. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 141-152)

    Is covenant marriage effective public policy for strengthening marriage? It may be tempting to conclude that the covenant marriage experiment in Louisiana was a failure. After all, there were very obvious problems with the implementation of the law, and there is no denying the very low rates of adoption of this form of marriage. But before jumping to such a conclusion, consider covenant marriage in a wider perspective.

    The task is not as simple as asking whether covenant marriage, per se, was a success. To understand what has happened in Louisiana we must ask this question about several relevant constituencies....

  13. Appendix A: Sampling and Research Methods
    (pp. 153-160)
  14. Appendix B: The Law of Covenant Marriage in Louisiana
    (pp. 161-168)
  15. Appendix C: Forms and Documents for Covenant Marriage
    (pp. 169-172)
  16. Appendix D: Methods and Measures for Chapter 6 (The Ongoing Marriage)
    (pp. 173-178)
  17. References
    (pp. 179-186)
  18. Index
    (pp. 187-192)
  19. About the Authors
    (pp. 193-194)