Texas House Representative James White (R-Woodville) has filed H.B. 547 relating to the creation and dissolution of a covenant marriage. The law would allow couples to select to enter into an agreement for a covenant marriage. The law applies to populations between 54,000 and 56,000 in which more than 250 divorces are granted each year, or to counties where the commissioners court in the county have adopted an order authorizing persons to enter into covenant marriages. Bills providing for covenant marriages in Texas have not been successful in the past.
Applicants for a marriage license in a county to which this law applies may enter into a covenant marriage by submitting with the license application a signed and notarized affidavit of intent to enter into a covenant marriage.
The affidavit of intent to enter into a covenant marriage would include the following language:
We do solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for so long as they both may live. We understand the nature, purpose, and responsibilities of marriage and have received counseling on the obligations of a covenant marriage. We have read the pamphlet on covenant marriage and understand that a covenant marriage is for life. We understand that we can get divorced or separated only for a reason stated in the pamphlet on covenant marriage. If we experience marital difficulties, we commit ourselves to take all reasonable efforts to preserve our marriage, including marital counseling. With full knowledge of what this commitment means, we declare our intent to enter into a covenant marriage that will be bound by Texas law on covenant marriage and we promise to love, honor, and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of our lives.
A marriage would become a covenant marriage when the couple filed the affidavit of intent to designate a marriage as a covenant marriage with the county clerk.
The bill requires that a couple must complete at least 8 hours of premarital counseling from a person legally authorized to engage in marriage counseling before they can enter into a covenant marriage. The counselor must use a science-based counseling program. The proposed law designates the topics that the counselor must discuss with the couple, including the seriousness of a covenant marriage, and that a covenant marriage is a commitment for life.
The bill would amend section 2.009 of the Texas Family Code to mandate that the county clerk must indicate on the marriage license whether the license is for a covenant marriage. The county clerk would also have to attach a copy of the affidavit to the marriage license.
The attorney general would be charged with selecting a not-for-profit organization to prepare and publish a pamphlet providing “a full explanation of the terms and conditions of covenant marriage.” The attorney general would have to provide the pamphlet if a not-for-profit was unavailable. The pamphlet would be provided by the county clerks to each couple applying for a license for a covenant marriage. The attorney general would be required to developed materials to educate county clerks in affected counties about the requirements for issuing a covenant marriage.
The law would provide for a divorce or legal separation only upon participating in counseling for the purposes of attempting to reconcile the marriage. The couple would have to participate in the counseling until the counselor or both spouses determine that the marriage is not salvageable.
Grounds for dissolution of covenant marriage include adultery and conviction of a felony with imprisonment for at least a year in a state or federal penitentiary and the spouse has not been pardoned. A family court judge may not grant a divorce if the spouse was convicted of a felony solely on the testimony of the other spouse. The bill also provides for dissolution of a covenant marriage based upon domestic violence.
A divorce in a covenant marriage would also be allowed if the other spouse left with the intention to abandon the spouse, and remained away for at least two years, or the spouses lived apart without cohabitation for at least three years. If there is a legal separation, the parties may divorce two years after the date of the separation order if there are no children, or two years and six months if there are minor children.
Trina West Crooks, a paralegal in Houston, Texas told Breitbart Texas, “I think it’s a great idea. Marriage is no longer respected especially here in the U.S. We make it too easy to just throw in the towel and basically have no accountability for our actions. I often say that people today want a microwave relationship/marriage, they use minimum cooking time (dating) and want maximum results (marriage). What usually happens is you get a lukewarm mess that nobody wants and it’s just discarded.”
Clint Lawson, a Board Certified Family lawyer from San Antonio suggested that couples “enter into a premarital agreement that provides for the restrictions imposed in a ‘covenant marriage.’” Attorney Michael Wadler from Houston, Texas, and other lawyers had the same suggestion.
Houston lawyer Tom Zakes told Breitbart Texas, “I’m fine with it as long as it is optional. Obviously, a lot of folks go in to marriage believing their fairy tale has come true. If a potential spouse says they don’t want this, it lets the other party know how they really feel.”
Attorney Lloyd Van Oostenrijk from Sugarland, Texas, asked about “the financial burden placed on the spouse during the two-year window.” H.B. 547 provides that a spouse in a legal separation can file a suit to obtain a court order of legal separation and ask for temporary orders. The law would mandate that the court “render a temporary order for maintenance in favor of a spouse who files for legal separation based on abandonment or dissolution of a covenant marriage.”
Lawyer Keith Strahan, from Houston, said “It’s an oxymoron that people would allow the civil government to oversee a ‘covenantal’ relationship. These people need to read their Bibles.”
Keith Griffin, a lawyer who practices family and entertainment law in Dallas told Breitbart Texas “It is my understanding that the term “covenant marriage” has arisen out of the evangelical segment of the Christian faith. It is not a term used by the other segments of the Christian church (Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant. etc.), nor by other faiths. To incorporate into the civil laws of this state a term used only by a particular religious group would show state preference for that particular group over other faith expressions. If this group wishes to also have covenant marriage contracts within their group they have every right to do so. But it is not right to incorporate this concept into the state’s civil laws, any more than it is right to incorporate Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Jewish or even Islamic divorce laws into the laws of this state.”
The bill has been referred to the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee. Chairman Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston), Vice Chairman Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Rep. Gilbert Pena (R-Pasadena), Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas), Rep. Scott Sanford(R-McKinney), and Rep. James White serve on the Committee.
The State of Louisiana was the first state to enact covenant marriage laws and it did so in 1997.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a family court associate judge. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.