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“Covenant Marriage” bill aims to lower divorce rate

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Breaking up is hard to do and soon, it may be even tougher in Oklahoma.

A measure aimed at lowering Oklahoma's divorce rate is moving forward at the State Capitol.

Senate Bill 105 would legalize "covenant marriage," making it more difficult to get a divorce.

"We have a cultural problem when it comes to our high divorce rate," State Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) said, the author of SB105.

Brecheen said he is hoping the option of having a covenant marriage will prevent the consequences of divorce, such as poverty and psychological damage to children.

"The major incentive is just for people to enter into a deeper commitment," Brecheen said.  "We are establishing a framework that forces us to reconcile, if possible."

In a covenant marriage, a couple would have to attend premarital counseling and there would only be five grounds to get a divorce:

  • Adultery
  • Physical or psychological abuse
  • Abandonment for one year
  • Being separated for one year without reconciliation through counseling
  • Fraudulently entering into the marriage

"I can't imagine any of my clients being willing to sign an agreed order that says 'I am guilty of adultery, I am guilty of physical abuse,'" divorce and custody attorney Lawrence Goodwin said.

He said it normally takes six months to a year to finalize a divorce but a covenant marriage could double that time because of the one-year separation clause.

Irreconcilable differences, the most common reason for divorce, would not be acceptable.

"So when we take that option off the table, you really are forcing litigation on these parties," Goodwin said.

Dr. Melissa Rich, a marriage and family therapist with Christian Counseling Associates, said the pre-counseling aspect of covenant marriage could curb divorce rates with prevention.

"Quite frankly, I think a lot of marriages would not have occurred if they had pre-marital counseling and I mean that in a good way because a lot of these situations could have been avoided," she said.

Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana have already legalized covenant marriages but Brecheen said they make up only 1 to 3 percent of all applications.

Considering Oklahoma has the highest divorce rate, he said if this law saves just one marriage and family, "it would be more than worth it."

After being approved unanimously Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, SB105 will now go before the full senate for further consideration.