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Oklahoma senator authors bill for covenant marriage option

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OKLAHOMA CITY - In Oklahoma, when you say "I do," you may soon also have the option to say "I really do" - in the form of a covenant marriage.

Covenant marriage is similar to traditional marriage, only it's a lot harder to get out of, if things go sour between husband and wife.

Republican State Senator Josh Brecheen of Ada has authored a bill to bring covenant marriage to Oklahoma.

He said the goal is to reduce the divorce rate.

"Yes, that's the ultimate goal," Brecheen said. "But, the goal also is to use statistics to show counseling can bring about a change in behavior."

Under Senate Bill 681, covenant marriage divorce is allowed for the usual reasons: adultery, drunkenness, abuse, abandonment, imprisonment.

But, Brecheen's version of covenant marriage also includes a provision for incompatibility, which is unusual in a covenant marriage proposal.

However, in order for the court to dissolve a covenant marriage for reasons of incompatibility, the couple is required to undergo six hours of counseling and a cooling off period of one year.

"Counseling can have a major impact on a lifelong change of how one relates to one another, behavior modification, in the instances where that is cause of why they are seeking divorce," Brecheen said.

Brecheen has authored similar legislation before.

His last bill passed out of the Oklahoma Senate but did not make it out of the House.

Family law attorney Chris Smith is concerned requiring a one-year waiting period by law will tie up the courts.

"I don't see how it's really going to help the divorce rate, practically speaking," Smith said. "I think that this is probably is a solution looking for a problem that, in the end, is only going to hurt innocent parties down the road."

Smith believes innocent spouses will be further victimized in the event they don't want to wait a year for a divorce.

Under the provision, you would need to prove one of the other valid reasons such as adultery or insanity, which could require airing the couple's so-called dirty laundry in open court.

"We're essentially creating this system that requires more litigation and requires more effort on the part of the litigants to try to prove bad acts," Smith said. "I don't think that's good for kids."

Only three other states have a covenant marriage option: Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona.

In those states, Brecheen said the cooling off period can be as long as two years.

Senate Bill 681 has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.