- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two Tennessee lawmakers are looking to bolster the institution of marriage in a state where the divorce rate is considerably higher than the already high national average.

The bill would let couples voluntarily enter “covenant marriages,” which require pre-wedding counseling and make it harder to get a divorce. But the three states that already have covenant marriages — Louisiana, Arizona and Arkansas — have seen little impact from the law. Few people choose covenant marriages, and the divorce rate hasn’t dropped.

One of the bill sponsor’s in Tennessee, Rep. Glen Casada, says he hopes it will lower the divorce rate, but he’s more concerned with how it will affect couples’ lives.

“There are times when you want to throw in the towel and quit, but this arrangement hopefully will prevent that,” said the Republican from College Grove.

Tennessee’s divorce rate is 5.1 per 1,000 population, which is tied with Florida for eighth-highest among 46 states and the District, according to a 2002 analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics. Arkansas was second-worst at 6.2, much higher than the national rate of 4.0

“It’s horrible,” said Katherine Spaht, a law professor at Louisiana State University who helped write her state’s covenant-marriage law and converted her marriage about eight years ago. “They aren’t taking marriage seriously.”

Under the Tennessee proposal, covenant marriages would be a voluntary option to a regular marriage license and generally cost about the same. Couples already married could convert their marriage.

The rules of covenant marriage require couples to go through premarital counseling and sign an affidavit pledging to seek counseling if problems arise.

In a covenant marriage, couples with children must wait 18 months before getting a divorce, and couples without children would have a one-year wait. The waiting period does not apply in cases of abuse, abandonment and adultery. The current waiting period in Tennessee is 90 days for couples with children and 60 days for those without.

Joe Beam, president of the Family Dynamics Institute, a nonprofit marriage and family ministry based in Franklin, said covenant marriages make a lot of sense.

“We’ve discovered that if you keep a couple together long enough to work on the problem, most marriages can not only be saved, but be made happy,” Mr. Beam said.

Covenant-marriage supporters often blame the rising divorce rate on “no-fault” divorces, in which neither spouse is held responsible for the breakup.

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