Questions About Oklahoma Covenant Marriage Bill
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The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 105, which would legalize “covenant marriage” in Oklahoma. The Bill’s proponent, Senator Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate), cites U.S. Census Bureau data which lists Oklahoma as having the highest divorce rate in the nation. While Senate Bill 105 has not yet been passed in either the full Senate or the House, and is not yet the law in Oklahoma, it raises a few questions regarding covenant marriage in Oklahoma.
What is a covenant marriage?
According to Senate Bill 105, as proposed, “[a] covenant marriage is is a marriage entered into by a man and woman who understand and agree that the marriage between them is a lifelong relationship.”
What would it take to have a covenant marriage?
The proposed language in Senate Bill 105 provides that, in order to obtain a covenant marriage license, the marrying couple would have to attend premarital counseling which “emphasiz[es] the nature and purposes of marriages and the responsibilities thereof.” When applying for the covenant marriage license, the couple would “declar[e] their intent to do so on their application…and execut[e] a declaration of intent to contract a covenant marriage.”
What if I got married before this law was passed and my spouse and I wanted a covenant marriage?
The proposed Senate Bill 105 address that as well, providing that a couple already married and “domiciled in Oklahoma [would be able to] execute a declaration of intent to designate their marriage as a covenant marriage.”
What’s the difference between a covenant marriage and a traditional marriage?
The short answer, other than each spouse’s commitment to the other, is not much. Remember, however, the purpose behind the covenant marriage is to slow the growing rate of divorce in Oklahoma. Accordingly, what it would take for a couple who entered into a covenant marriage to get divorced is more restrictive than under current law.
Currently in Oklahoma there are twelve statutorily recognized recognized reasons for a Court to grant a divorce:
- Abandonment for one (1) year;
- When the wife at the time of her marriage was pregnant by a person other than her husband;
- Extreme cruelty;
- Fraudulent contract;
- Incompatibility (which is the primary reason cited in the vast majority of divorces in Oklahoma today, also known as “no-fault” divorce);
- Habitual drunkenness;
- Gross neglect of duty;
- A final divorce decree from another state which does not, in this state, release the other party from the obligations of marriage; and
- Insanity for a period of five years with the insane person having been an inmate in a state institution for the insane or a private sanitarium, and affected with a type of insanity with a poor prognosis for recovery.
Under the terms of Senate Bill 105, the list of reasons to divorce a traditionally married couple would remain the same. However, for a couple who entered into a covenant marriage the list would be reduced to only five (5):
- Physical or psychological abuse of the spouse or a child of one or both of the spouses;
- Abandonment by one spouse for a period of one (1) year;
- The spouses have lived separate and apart continuously, without successful reconciliation, for a period of one (1) year. Further, “[w]ritten notification of the intent of a spouse to to live apart sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the premarital counsel or any other marriage counselor agreed to by the husband and wife and to the other spouse” shall start the clock running on the one (1) year period.
- Fraud in entering into the marriage contract or into a covenant marriage.
For family law attorneys, a petition for dissolution of a covenant marriage with children “shall not allege specific grounds for divorce” and “the court shall hold a hearing to determine whether there exists any of the [five (5)] causes for divorce” listed above.
It remains to be seen whether or not Senate Bill 105 will become law in Oklahoma and, if it does, whether or not it will have any effect on our state’s divorce rate.
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