2000 New Jersey AB 2640 - Covenant Marriage


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2000 New Jersey Assembly Bill No. 2640

INTRODUCED JUNE 19, 2000
Sponsored by: Assemblyman GUY F. TALARICO

VERSION: Introduced
June 19, 2000
Talarico

SYNOPSIS

Establishes covenant marriage.

An Act establishing covenant marriage and amending and supplementing various
sections of the statutory law.

STATEMENT

The divorce rate in the United States has steadily increased since the
1970's, when no-fault divorce laws became widespread. Currently, nearly one
out of two marriages end in divorce.

The relative ease with which a divorce can be obtained under our present
system has been cited as a contributing factor in the break-up of many
families. Lack of a sound family structure underlies many social ills,
including poverty among women and children, juvenile violence, teenage
pregnancy and drug abuse.

This bill would establish covenant marriage as a new type of marriage
contract in New Jersey which recognizes a true lifetime commitment by the
couple. Under a covenant marriage, it becomes more difficult to get married,
since pre-marital counseling is required. It also becomes more difficult to
obtain a divorce, since divorce is allowed only on grounds of marital fault.

Under the bill, persons who wish to marry would have the option to enter
into a covenant marriage. If they choose this option, the couple would be
required to undergo premarital counseling and to sign a statement describing
their commitment to the marriage. If a couple is married pursuant to a
covenant marriage, a divorce can be granted only on certain limited grounds.

Persons undergoing a covenant marriage would be required to sign the
following statement:

"A COVENANT MARRIAGE

We solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman
who agree to live together as husband and wife for as long as they both live.
We have chosen each other carefully and have received premarital counseling on
the nature, purposes and responsibilities of marriage. We understand that a
covenant marriage is for life. 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 do declare that our
marriage will be bound by New Jersey law on covenant marriages and we promise
to love, honor and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of
our lives."

The couple would also be required to sign an affidavit that they have
received premarital counseling from a member of the clergy or from a marriage
counselor. Premarital counseling would be required to include a discussion of
the seriousness of covenant marriage, communication of the fact that a
covenant marriage is a commitment for life, a discussion of the obligation to
seek marital counseling in times of marital difficulties and a discussion of
the exclusive grounds for terminating a covenant marriage.

The bill also provides that a notarized attestation confirming that
premarital counseling took place, which is signed by the clergy or counselor
who performed the counseling, must be submitted with the application for a
marriage license.

In addition to couples wishing to marry, couples who are already married
and wish to remarry would have the option to remarry under the terms of a
covenant marriage. Already-married couples could also choose to convert their
existing marriages into covenant marriages under the bill.

Under the bill, a divorce in a covenant marriage could be granted only if
the parties have obtained counseling and the court finds any of the following:

a. The defendant spouse has committed adultery;

b. The defendant spouse has committed a crime and has been sentenced to a
term of imprisonment;

c. The defendant spouse has abandoned the marital residence for at least
one year and refuses to return.

d. The defendant spouse has physically or sexually abused the plaintiff, a
child or a relative of either spouse permanently residing in the matrimonial
residence; has committed domestic violence as defined in the "Prevention of
Domestic Violence Act of 1991," P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-17 et seq.); or has
committed emotional abuse.

The bill is modeled on statutes in effect in the states of Louisiana and
Arizona.


TEXT:
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New
Jersey:

1. N.J.S.2A:34-2 is amended to read as follows:

N.J.S.2A:34-2. Causes for divorce from bond of matrimony.

Except as provided in P.L. ,c. (C. ) (now pending
before the Legislature as this bill), divorce from the bond of matrimony
may be adjudged for the following causes heretofore or hereafter arising:

a. Adultery;

b. Willful and continued desertion for the term of 12 or more months,
which may be established by satisfactory proof that the parties have ceased to
cohabit as man and wife;

c. Extreme cruelty, which is defined as including any physical or mental
cruelty which endangers the safety or health of the plaintiff or makes it
improper or unreasonable to expect the plaintiff to continue to cohabit with
the defendant; provided that no complaint for divorce shall be filed until
after 3 months from the date of the last act of cruelty complained of in the
complaint, but this provision shall not be held to apply to any counterclaim;

d. Separation, provided that the husband and wife have lived separate and
apart in different habitations for a period of at least 18 or more consecutive
months and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation; provided,
further that after the 18-month period there shall be a presumption that there
is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation;

e. Voluntarily induced addiction or habituation to any narcotic drug as
defined in the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, P.L.1970, c.
226 or habitual drunkenness for a period of 12 or more consecutive months
subsequent to marriage and next preceding the filing of the complaint;

f. Institutionalization for mental illness for a period of 24 or more
consecutive months subsequent to marriage and next preceding the filing of the
complaint;

g. Imprisonment of the defendant for 18 or more consecutive months after
marriage, provided that where the action is not commenced until after the
defendant's release, the parties have not resumed cohabitation following such
imprisonment;

h. Deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed by the defendant without
the consent of the plaintiff.

(cf: P.L.1971, c.217, s.11)

2. R.S.37:1-7 is amended to read as follows:

37:1-7. Issuing of license; remarriage ; covenant marriage .

The licensing officer is hereby empowered to issue marriage licenses to
the contracting parties who apply therefor and are entitled under the laws of
this State to contract matrimony, authorizing the marriage of such parties,
which license shall be substantially in the following form:

"State of New Jersey. County of city, town or township of

This is to certify that any person, religious society, institution or
organization authorized by law to perform marriage ceremonies within the State
of New Jersey to whom this may come, he or they not knowing any lawful
impediment thereto, is hereby authorized and empowered to solemnize the rites
of matrimony between

A B of in the county of and State of and C D
of , in the county of and State of , and to certify the same to
be the said parties, or either of them, under his hand and seal in his
ministerial or official capacity.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the seal of
said town, township or city at this day of <<- one thousand nine hundred and
->> (year)

, (Name and official title)"

If the contracting parties desire both a civil and a religious marriage
ceremony, the licensing officer shall issue a license in duplicate, marking
one as "issued for civil marriage ceremony" and one as "issued for religious
marriage ceremony."

If the contracting parties desire to enter into a covenant marriage
pursuant to P.L. ,c. (C. ) (now pending before the Legislature as this bill),
the licensing officer shall issue a license marked "issued for covenant
marriage."

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the remarriage of a
couple already married to each other; provided, a new license is obtained and
the marriage properly reported. Such couple may choose to be remarried
under the terms of a covenant marriage, established pursuant to P.L. ,c. (C.
) (now pending before the Legislature as this bill). Such license shall be
plainly marked "Issued for remarriage--originally married to same mate at
(state place) on (state date)." Such a license shall be issued without
compliance with the provisions of section 37:1-4 of the Revised Statutes and
the provisions of "An act concerning marriages" approved May third, one
thousand nine hundred and thirty-eight (P.L.1938, c. 126). When such marriage
report is received by the State registrar he shall, if an original marriage
certificate is recorded, make a notation thereon of the remarriage and its
date and place.

(cf: P.L.1941, c.354, p.926)

3. R.S.37:1-17 is amended to read as follows:

37:1-17. On the marriage license shall be the form for the certificate of
marriage or the certificate of covenant marriage pursuant to P.L. ,c. (C.
) (now pending before the Legislature as this bill) in quadruplicate, to
which the licensing officer shall have set forth particularly therein the
name, age, parentage, race, birthplace, residence, Social Security number and
condition (whether single, widowed or divorced) of each of the married
persons, and the names and county of birth of their parents. The Social
Security number shall be kept confidential and may only be released for child
support enforcement purposes, and shall not be considered a public record
pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.). The person by whom or the
religious society, institution, or organization by or before which, the
marriage was solemnized, shall personally or by legally authorized agent
subscribe where indicated on the form the date and place of the marriage.
Each certificate of marriage shall also contain the signature and residence of
at least two witnesses who were present at the marriage ceremony.

(cf: P.L.1998, c.1, s.45)

4. (New section) a. Persons who are entitled under the laws of this State
to contract matrimony may enter into a covenant marriage pursuant to this act
by declaring their intent to do so on their application for a marriage license
pursuant to R.S.37:1-7 and by complying with the requirements of this act. The
marriage license shall be recorded as provided by the provisions of chapter 1
of Title 37 of the Revised Statutes with an indication that the marriage is a
covenant marriage.

b. A declaration of intent to enter into a covenant marriage shall contain
all of the following:

(1) The following written statement:

"A COVENANT MARRIAGE

We solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman
who agree to live together as husband and wife for as long as they both live.
We have chosen each other carefully and have received premarital counseling on
the nature, purposes and responsibilities of marriage. We understand that a
covenant marriage is for life. 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 do declare that our
marriage will be bound by New Jersey law on covenant marriages and we promise
to love, honor and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of
our lives."

(2) An affidavit from the parties that they have received premarital
counseling from a member of the clergy or from a marriage counselor.
Premarital counseling shall include a discussion of the seriousness of
covenant marriage, communication of the fact that a covenant marriage is a
commitment for life, a discussion of the obligation to seek marital counseling
in times of marital difficulties and a discussion of the exclusive grounds for
terminating a covenant marriage by dissolution of marriage or divorce from bed
and board; and

(3) The signatures of both parties witnessed by the licensing officer.

c. A notarized attestation that is signed by the clergy or counselor must
be submitted with the application for a license and shall confirm that the
parties were counseled as to the nature and purpose of the marriage and the
grounds for its termination and that the counselor provided to the parties the
informational pamphlet developed by the Department of Human Services pursuant
to this chapter. The clerk shall document that the attestation was submitted.

5. (New section) A husband and wife may enter into a covenant marriage by
submitting to the licensing officer the declaration set out in section 4 of
P.L. ,c. (C. ) (now pending before the Legislature as this bill) and a sworn
statement of the names, Social Security numbers and other identifying
information of the husband and wife and the date and place their marriage was
contracted. The licensing officer shall issue to the husband and wife a
certificate that documents the conversion to covenant marriage.

A husband and wife who apply for a conversion to covenant marriage are not
required to receive the premarital counseling required pursuant to section 4
P.L. ,c. (C. ) (now pending before the Legislature as this bill) and are not
required to have the converted covenant marriage separately solemnized.
Conversion to a covenant marriage does not make valid a marriage that is
prohibited pursuant to applicable law or that is not validly contracted in
this State.

6. (New section) Dissolution of covenant marriage; grounds.

Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, if a husband and wife
have entered into a covenant marriage pursuant to P.L. ,c. (C. ) (now pending
before the Legislature as this bill) the court shall not enter a judgment of
divorce unless the parties have obtained counseling and the court finds any of
the following:

a. The defendant spouse has committed adultery;

b. The defendant spouse has committed a crime and has been sentenced to a
term of imprisonment;

c. The defendant spouse has abandoned the marital residence for at least
one year and refuses to return.

d. The defendant spouse has physically or sexually abused the plaintiff, a
child or a relative of either spouse permanently residing in the matrimonial
residence; has committed domestic violence as defined in the "Prevention of
Domestic Violence Act of 1991," P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-17 et seq.); or has
committed emotional abuse.

e. Separation, provided that the husband and wife have lived separate and
apart in different habitations for a period of at least 24 or more consecutive
months and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation; provided,
further that after the 24-month period there shall be a presumption that there
is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation; or

f. Voluntarily induced addiction or habituation to any narcotic drug as
defined in the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, P.L.1970, c.
226 or habitual drunkenness for a period of 12 or more consecutive months
subsequent to marriage and next preceding the filing of the complaint.

7. The Department of Human Services shall publish a pamphlet entitled
"Covenant Marriage in New Jersey." The pamphlet shall describe the
requirements for entering into a covenant marriage pursuant to this act and
the grounds necessary to obtain a decree of divorce. The Department shall
provide the pamphlet on request to any person who provides counseling pursuant
to this act.

8. The Department of Human Services shall adopt, pursuant to the
"Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c. 410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), rules
and regulations necessary to implement this act.

9. This act shall take effect on the 90th day following enactment, except
for section 8, which shall take effect immediately.

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