TESTIMONY OF JOHN CROUCH
MARYLAND HOUSE OF DELEGATES
HOUSE BILL 1076 - COVENANT MARRIAGE

JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HEARING MARCH 16, 1999
[Prepared written version of oral testimony]


Part of the Divorce Reform Page, sponsored by Americans for Divorce Reform
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I'm a divorce lawyer. I think covenant marriage will be helpful for people who choose it, and for people who don't choose it, and even for some people who don't get married. I think it will reduce fault and no-fault divorce. Covenant Marriage gives people the freedom to choose a more sustainable kind of marriage, and it gives them guidance from others in the community, to help them make their marriage choices wisely and deliberately.

We divorce lawyers see our clients getting more and more alienated from the system, wanting to take vengeance on each other, and getting the kids involved in their crusades against each other. Our response has been to tell clients: Divorce is a normal part of life. Get some therapy and support groups for yourself and the kids, get over it, and start the whole process over again with someone else. And meanwhile be nice to your ex, and don't use the kids as weapons, even if it means you lose them.

But we have been telling people these things for 30 years, and they just seem to be getting worse, madder, more desperate. So I've been wondering, if divorce is so normal and people have had 30 years to adjust to no-fault, why does it still drive so many people nuts?

One thing that my clients hate about the divorce process is that they are not in control of their own lives. Regardless of who started it, the potential costs of divorce are unlimited. Their lawyer can't even tell them how much it's going to cost -- all we can say is that it depends on what the other spouse and their lawyer do. Any divorce can turn out to be a death match where the richer or meaner spouse wins by attrition.

A covenant marriage law would restore some sense of self-control. People who got divorced against their will would no longer feel that they had been totally passive victims whose belief and dedication to the sanctity of marriage had been used against them. They will at least be able to say, "Well, I chose an open-ended marriage." Or, "I brought this on myself by fooling around." Or, "I chose to let him go, and bargained for a viable standard of living for me and the kids."

And for those who choose covenant marriage, it really would give them more control. Many people my age tell me that IF they ever marry, they would want it to be for life. They have seen what it's like to be divorced, they have known parents and children who have little or no contact with one another, and many of them are determined not to live that way. These people's choice to seek a marriage for life is not just romantic, and it certainly isn't from blind love. It's a very sober choice, based on a knowledge of how weak humans are, especially when there are no laws or social conventions to help them live up to their promises. I don't believe these predictions that people will choose covenant marriage lightly, especially with the rigorous counseling that they will be getting. The people who will choose covenant marriage are adults, and we should allow them their choice.

People with this legally-protected commitment to their marriage will be more able to prudently invest themselves in the marriage. Today, it hardly makes sense to tie up your whole economic future and emotional well-being in a marriage which has a good chance of not lasting, and people know that.

Similarly, choosing covenant marriage will drastically reduce the incentives that encourage the kind of behavior that leads to divorce. Let's face it -- for a lot of people these days, adultery is not a big deal, and after you're married you're still a free agent. You can still look around for someone you like better, who is younger or more successful than your current spouse, and if you decide to switch teams, you just blame it on love, and there's very little social pressure on you to be faithful. Especially when you know your spouse might do likewise at any time. This situation is what economists call "The Prisoner's Dilemma" -- an incentive to betray someone who might betray you, even when it's not in either of your interests to do so. Covenant Marriage changes the rules on that point back toward what they used to be. The exit doors will no longer be deceptively easy and inviting. It will take two people to decide to end a marriage, plus some marriage counseling. So Covenant Marriage should not only reduce no-fault divorce, it should reduce fault divorce, too.

Finally, some of the most important beneficiaries of covenant marriage are those who avoid getting into a bad marriage because of it. Pre-marital education has been improved a lot in recent decades. It teaches them skills to communicate and "fight fair" before and during marriage, but it also leads many of them to postpone or cancel their weddings. A lot of it involves interrogations and psychological profiling that will give the couple a lot more information on how they will get along, whether their priorities are compatible, and whether their plans are realistic.

Covenant Marriage will give people more self-determination, and along with it, more responsibility. People want more choice and control over their own lives, and they are mature and responsible enough to live with the consequences of their choices. And they will not make these choices in a laissez-faire vacuum: the premarital counseling required by covenant marriage means that others in the community will actively be helping them to take care that their choices are made wisely. I believe Covenant Marriages will be stronger, on average, than others, and that they will have reduced levels of fault divorce and no-fault divorce.

John Crouch
Crouch & Crouch Law Offices
2111 Wilson Blvd., Suite 550
Arlington, Virginia 22201
703-528-6700

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Originally posted and maintained by Americans for Divorce Reform; now maintained by John Crouch. You can call me at (703) 528-6700 or e-mail me through my law office's web site.