Several years ago, a number of states began enacting measures known as “covenant marriage acts.” These laws gave couples the option of signing on to a legally binding contract that would effectively make it tougher for them to divorce. They would face higher hurdles if they chose to split.
In Alabama, the proposed covenant marriage act would have made it necessary for couples who agreed to covenant marriage to enter a period of marital counseling before they could get married. They would also be required to attend counseling before they could divorce. It also would limit the circumstances under which couples could un-couple.
These circumstances would include adultery, abandonment, abuse of any kind to either the spouse or children or separation for at least two years. The measure was proposed to combat the fact that Alabama has the fourth-highest divorce rate in the country.
But it wasn't popular, or at least it wasn't as popular as it needed to be for the legislature's approval, and ultimately, the bill died.
However, it was passed in a number of other states, including Louisiana. The enforcement of Louisiana's Covenant Marriage Act by Alabama family courts was the subject of the recent case of Blackburn v. Blackburn, before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
Couple married in 2004 in Louisiana and had agreed to a covenant marriage in that state. The pair later relocated to Alabama. In 2013, husband filed for divorce. He alleged incompatibility and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Wife filed a counterclaim for divorce, alleging incompatibility and also certain acts of domestic violence by husband.
Numerous motions were then filed, including one by wife for enforcement of the covenant marriage contract. Trial court denied this motion.
Day before trial, wife requested a continuance due to flooding at her home. This was granted, but she did not appear the next day either. She requested a second continuance, but this motion was denied. Husband rested his case and the court entered a judgment divorcing the parties and dividing marital property.
Wife requested a post-judgment motion to amend or vacate, but court denied. She then appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Specifically, she argued trial court erred in failing to enforce the out-of-state covenant marriage act.
The covenant marriage act in that state specified is similar to the one proposed in Alabama, with requirements that included counseling prior to divorce and that divorce may only be granted under certain circumstances, including adultery, commission of a felony, abandonment, abuse or a two-year legal separation.
The fact that these two were in a covenant marriage was undisputed. Appellate court noted neither the appellate court nor the courts of any other states have addressed whether a state with no covenant marriage laws must approve the covenant marriage laws of another state, even though the parties involved are domiciled in the non-covenant marriage state.
The court noted even if it were to construe the covenant contract as a prenuptial agreement, the court could find no basis for a court in Alabama to grant a divorce based on the laws of any other state.
Given that the parties involved availed themselves of the laws of Alabama and Alabama law doesn't provide for covenant marriage, appeals court ruled trial court did not err in denying wife's motion to enforce the covenant marriage contract.
Blackburn v. Blackburn, April 10, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals