2003 Virginia Covenant Marriage Bills


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Covenant Marriage got further than it ever had before in the 2003 Virginia legislature. ON FEB. 4, 2003, COVENANT MARRIAGE PASSED IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES 62 TO 36. However, on February 12 it was defeated 9 to 4 in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. The bill was one of the best-drafted covenant marriage bills anywhere in the country. Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine testified for the bill. He had backed a similar bill, which also failed.

Here is some material from our earlier news releases we sent out during the process.

The Democratic bill, HB 2028, introduced by Del. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) at the urging of Lt. Governor Tim Kaine, lets a couple choose a Covenant Marriage, which requires eight hours of counseling to get into, and to get out of. The Republican bill, HB 2793, does the same, but also lengthens the current one-year waiting period to two years for Covenant Marriage couples. Its chief patron is Del. Robert McDonnell (R-Virginia Beach), who chairs the Courts of Justice Committee.

Either of these bills would be an unprecedented, though modest, step forward towards a legal system that values and supports marriage. The only significant problem with them [as originally drafted] was their definition of marital and premarital counseling. Unfortunately, these bills were [originally] drafted in ignorance of what marriage skills training actually consists of, and who provides it. They do not let couples use most of the good resources that are actually available for marriage education and counseling; and they put psychotherapists in charge of marital and premarital counseling who do not necessarily do it, or believe in it. This defect is not unique to Virginia -- it is shared by most covenant marriage bills introduced around the country in recent years.

[***NEWS FLASH -- THIS PROBLEM HAS BEEN FIXED SINCE THIS WEB PAGE WAS POSTED! THE VERSION OF HB 2793 THAT PASSED THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES ON FEB. 4, 2003 SAYS THAT CLERGY "or their designated representative", "or marriage educator approved by the person performing the marriage," CAN PROVIDE THE COUNSELING. This is slightly more restrictive than the versions recommended below, but it is certainly shorter, and it means that every minister or magistrate who performs marriages will have to become familiar with marriage education resources, and since they'll be doing that, maybe they can provide information about it to all couples, even those who don't choose covenant marriage!]


[In comparison with the original version of the bill,] it is far better to not add any restrictive definitions to marriage counseling or education, nor to who may provide it. That is the approach taken in the original Louisiana Covenant Marriage law and the original version of Maryland's marriage education law. But for legislators who do want to add definitions to legislation dealing with marriage counseling and education, we have worked with leaders in the marriage education community to come up with appropriate definitions, which appear in Section (a) of our MODEL PREMARITAL EDUCATION ACT and in Section 4(a) of our CLASSIC MARRIAGE proposal.

Other distinctive features of the two bills:

The Republican version prescribes the exact contents of a written "declaration of intent", which for some reason requires the couple to declare that they don't believe in same-sex marriage, even though they are already required to be of different sexes.

The Democratic bill's description of the pre-divorce counseling devotes as much space to divorce-related counseling as to marriage counseling. It includes "the obligations of the parties in the event of divorce", which a counselor who isn't a divorce lawyer can only describe very generally. The counseling also includes "the availability of community resources to address marital difficulties," which hopefully means that couples will be informed of the whole range of marriage skills training programs that are available.

Legislative Services' Impact Statement on Covenant Marriage Bill, 2003

HOUSE BILL NO. 2028
Offered January 8, 2003
Prefiled January 7, 2003
A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding in Title 20 a chapter numbered 2.1, consisting of sections numbered 20-37.3 through 20-37.7, relating to covenant marriages.
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Patron-- Petersen
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Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
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Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding in Title 20 a chapter numbered 2.1, consisting of sections numbered 20-37.3 through 20-37.7, as follows:
CHAPTER 2.1.
COVENANT MARRIAGE ACT.

§ 20-37.3. Covenant marriage.

A covenant marriage is a marriage between a man and a woman who understand and agree that their marriage is a lifelong relationship. As evidence of this commitment, parties to a covenant marriage shall receive premarital counseling pursuant to § 20-37.4 or marital counseling pursuant to § 20-37.5 to enter into a covenant marriage in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.

§ 20.37.4. Premarital counseling; affidavit.

A. No marriage shall constitute a covenant marriage unless the parties jointly receive, prior to the marriage, a minimum of 8 hours of counseling concerning the nature and responsibilities of a marital relationship. Such counseling shall be performed in person by a priest, rabbi, minister, or clergy member of any religious society or denomination who is authorized to perform a marriage ceremony or by a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist as defined by § 54.1-3500. Such counseling shall include, at minimum, (i) the nature, purpose, and responsibilities of a marital relationship; (ii) responsibilities regarding children and shared parenting; (iii) conflict management; and (iv) financial responsibilities of the parties.

B. The clerk or deputy clerk of a circuit court of any county or city issuing a marriage license pursuant to §
20-14 shall, in addition to the oath required under § 20-16 and before issuing the license, require the parties contemplating a covenant marriage to state, under oath, or by affidavit, that they have received counseling pursuant to subsection A within 6 months preceding the date of their application. In addition, such parties shall present, as part of their application for a marriage license, a notarized attestation, signed by the person performing the counseling, confirming that the parties were counseled as required herein.

§
20-37.5. Covenant marriage; applicability to existing marriages.

A. Effective October 1, 2003, married persons who were married in the Commonwealth may redesignate their marriage as a covenant marriage by (i) obtaining marital counseling pursuant to subsection B.

B. Married persons who were married in the Commonwealth wishing to redesignate their marriage as a covenant marriage shall receive counseling concerning the nature and responsibilities of a marital relationship within 6 months preceding their execution of a declaration of intent pursuant to subsection C.

1. Counseling conducted pursuant to this section shall be performed in person by a priest, rabbi, minister, or clergy member of any religious society or denomination who is authorized to perform a marriage ceremony or by a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist as defined by § 54.1-3500. Such counseling shall include, at minimum, (i) the nature, purpose, and responsibilities of a marital relationship; (ii) responsibilities regarding children and shared parenting; (iii) conflict management; and (iv) financial responsibilities of the parties.
[Note: The cross-referenced definition in § 54.1-3500 states:
"Marriage and family therapist" means a person trained in the assessment and treatment of cognitive, affective, or behavioral mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage and family systems through the application of therapeutic and family systems theories and techniques.

"Marriage and family therapy" means the assessment and treatment of cognitive, affective, or behavioral mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage and family systems through the application of therapeutic and family systems theories and techniques and delivery of services to individuals, couples, and families, singularly or in groups, for the purpose of treating such disorders.

"Professional counselor" means a person trained in counseling interventions designed to facilitate an individual's achievement of human development goals and remediating mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders and associated distresses which interfere with mental health and development.]


2. The clerk or deputy clerk of the circuit court of the locality in which the married persons reside shall require the parties contemplating designating their marriage as a covenant marriage to state under oath, or by affidavit, that they have received counseling pursuant to subsection B within 6 months preceding the date of their application. In addition, such parties shall present to the clerk a notarized attestation, signed by the person performing the counseling, confirming that the parties were counseled as required herein. Married persons redesignating their marriage as a covenant marriage shall present the clerk with proof of counseling pursuant to this subsection on the date on which they execute a declaration of intent to enter a covenant marriage.

3. Persons married in a jurisdiction outside of the Commonwealth who wish to redesignate their marriage as a covenant marriage shall comply with the provisions of §§ 20-37.3 and 20-37.4.

C. In addition to the requirements set forth in subsection B, married persons intending to redesignate their marriage as a covenant marriage shall state under oath a declaration of intent confirming their desire to redesignate their marriage as a covenant marriage. The declaration of intent shall be signed by both parties, notarized, and presented to the clerk administering the oath.

D. For all persons satisfying the requirements of this section to redesignate their marriage as a covenant marriage, the clerk shall (i) designate on the face of the original or certified copy of the marriage certificate, whichever is applicable, that the marriage is a covenant marriage; (ii) file and preserve the original or certified copy of the marriage certificate; (iii) file and preserve a copy of the declaration of intent; and (iv) forward a copy of the covenant marriage license to the Bureau of Vital Statistics.

§ 20-37.6. Counseling required prior to filing for divorce from bond of covenant matrimony.

A. No decree of divorce from the bond of covenant matrimony shall be granted unless the parties receive a minimum of 8 hours of counseling to make a good faith attempt to preserve the marriage. The counseling shall be conducted in person and shall be provided by a priest, rabbi, minister, or clergy member of any religious society or denomination who is authorized to perform a marriage ceremony or by a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist as defined by § 54.1-3500.

B. Counseling conducted pursuant to this section shall include, at a minimum, a discussion of (i) the marital difficulties experienced by the parties and various options for resolving such difficulties, including the use of mediation; (ii) the obligations of the parties in the event of divorce, including child support, visitation, spousal support and property settlement; and (iii) the availability of community resources to address marital difficulties, or to assist parents and children through the process of divorce.

§
20-37.7. Provisions of general law applicable if not in conflict and in event covenant marriage void or voidable.

In the event that a covenant marriage is declared void or voidable for any reason, the marriage shall continue to be valid under the general provisions for the celebration and dissolution of marriage contained in this title. When not in conflict with the provisions of this chapter, the general provisions for celebration and dissolution of marriage contained in this title shall apply to a covenant marriage.


2. That the Registrar of Vital Records, in conjunction with the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association, shall design a suitable form or forms and institute appropriate procedures to implement this act.

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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.