As some of you may have noticed, both Jill and Jessa Duggar have “convenient” marriages. Arkansas is one of three states a covenant marriage law. No-fault divorce laws have allowed couples to divorce without having to prove abuse or unfaithfulness, but Arkansas’ covenant marriage law rolls that back. Couples with covenant marriages cannot simply get a divorce—and that now includes both Jill and Jessa.
How does Arkansas’ covenant marriage law work? Like this:
Under a Covenant Marriage, a couple may seek divorce only after receiving counseling and only for the following reasons:
1. Adultery by the other spouse
2. Commission of a felony or other infamous crime by the other spouse
3. Physical or sexual abuse of the spouse or of a child of either spouse
Additionally, Covenant Marriage couples may divorce following a period of separation:
1. The spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for two years.
2. If there are minor children involved, the couple must have been living separate and apart for two years and six months from the date the judgment for judicial separation was signed. If abuse of a child was the basis for judicial separation, the couple must live separate and apart for only one year from the date the judgment was signed.
So in sum, you may only divorce in cases of: (1) adultery; (2) commission of a felony; (3) spousal or child abuse; or (4) two years of continuous separation. If a child is involved, the separation must be two years and six months, and while spousal abuse is reason for an immediate divorce with no required separation, if the cause of divorce is abuse of the child a year of separation is required.
In other words, if you can prove adultery, commission of a felony, or spousal abuse, you can obtain an immediate divorce. If you cannot prove one of these things, you must remain separated for as much as two years and six months before obtaining a divorce. The effect is that if you want to get a divorce and don’t have “cause,” you have to spend a potential two and a half years living separate from your spouse while still married to them before you can obtain a divorce and move on. That’s a very long time to draw the process out, and there is absolutely nothing a couple can do about it, even if they both want out of their marriage immediately.
I don’t like Arkansas’ covenant marriage law, and I can pinpoint why. If a couple doesn’t want to divorce, they don’t have to divorce. The effect of Arkansas law—the entire point of the law—is to keep couples stuck in marriages they no longer want to be in by making leaving extremely difficult. I have no problem with couples voluntarily deciding to stay together. Why would I? I do, however, have a problem with forcing couples to stay together.
Now yes, couples do not have to get a covenant marriage. It is something they voluntarily choose. But if the point wasn’t to keep couples together when they no longer want to stay together, there would be no reason to have covenant marriage laws in the first place. In a sense, couples who enter covenant marriage laws decide now that they want to be forced to stay together down the road should they change their minds and want to leave. I find that extremely problematic, perhaps in part because I believe that consent—including consent to a marriage—should be ongoing.