Covenant marriages are those in which marrying couples agree to obtain pre-marital counseling and accept far more limited grounds for which they may later seek a divorce.
So far, only three states – Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana – recognize covenant marriages. But, if one east-central Iowa legislator gets his way, our state will become the fourth to do so.
State Rep. Tedd Gassman (R-Scarville) introduced this week House File 442, which allows for the creation of covenant marriages, and outlines the manner in which they are to be initiated. It also provides and avenue by which those who have already married may designate their marriage as a covenant marriage.
The bill requires the county registrar to provide each applicant for a marriage license with an informational pamphlet on covenant marriage, and that the certificate of marriage include a place to allow the parties to designate their marriage as a covenant marriage. It also requires that the parties complete at least 12 hours of “pre-marital education.”
Those who were married on or after Jan. 1, 2016, may also designate their marriage as a covenant marriage under the proposed legislation.
HF 442 also provides the exclusive grounds for obtaining a dissolution of a covenant marriage, which include:
- that a party commits adultery,
- that a party commits a felony and is imprisoned,
- that a party abandons the matrimonial domicile for at least one year and refuses to return,
- that a party physically or sexually abuses the other party or a child of one of the parties, or
- that the parties are living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for a period of at least two years.
The proposed legislation also provides that the parties may agree to dissolution if there are no children of the marriage. In all proceedings for dissolution based on a covenant marriage, the court is to order the parties to complete at least 12 hours of marriage counseling.
When a covenant marriage dissolution is considered, and there is a child or children involved, the court must order an evaluation of the child(ren) by a child psychologist. The bill would also require the court to provide for joint custody of the child(ren) by both parties, unless it can cite “clear and convincing evidence” that it would not be in the best interest of the child(ren).
The Family Leader supports the passage of HF 442. The Iowa State Bar Association is “undecided.”