A look at what “covenant marriage” is all about
Note: Presently, only Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana in the USA have covenant marriage laws. This article discusses  what a covenant marriage law is;  Philippine laws on marriage;  divorce and remarriage for Filipino citizens;  covenant marriage declaration and covenant marriage vows;  how fundamentalist and evangelical churches in the US started the covenant marriage movement; and  my proposal for a covenant marriage law in the Philippines. (It might interest you to know that US Republican Party presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, formerly a Southern Baptist preacher, upgraded his contract marriage into a covenant marriage more than a year ago.)
G. K. Chesterton once said, “When a man says I love you to a woman, what he really means is that, of all the millions of women in the world, I choose you.” This is such romantic stuff that a lot of you might think this article will be all about some mushy stuff. But truth is, we will be discussing some rather heavy legal stuff about marriage which could make you think twice before proposing or saying “I do.”
Incidentally, the slideshow above shows wedding pictures of my former students (Leili and Ela) and friends (Ptr. Alen and Ruth).
The Family Code of the Philippines, specifically Article 1, defines marriage as follows,
Marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life. It is the foundation of the family and an inviolable social institution whose nature, consequences, and incidents are governed by law and not subject to stipulation, except that marriage settlements may fix the property relations during the marriage within the limits provided by this Code.Article 3 of the Family Code furthermore states that “a marriage ceremony takes place with the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age.”
Dreary statistics on divorce and live-in relationships
Too bad however that marriage has been taking a beating in recent years in terms of divorces and out-of-wedlock relationships. There is a controversy as to exactly what the divorce rate is in the US, with figures ranging from a low of 25% to a high of 50%. (Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in his book “Love and Respect” cites the divorce rate in the US as 50%.) The Barna Research Group reported that in 1998, the divorce rate in the US among born-again Christians (27 percent) and fundamentalist Christians (30 percent was higher than no-Christians (23 percent). What’s more tragic is 85 percent said they obtained their divorce after they became Christians!
Here in the Philippines, the number of cases of annulment, legal separation and declaration of nullity of marriage has been rising through the years. The Office of the Solicitor General reported that in 2007, there were a total of 7,753 cases filed by persons seeking to terminate their marriage. Out of this number, 2,582 cases were filed in Metro Manila. The total number of this kind of cases has been rising through the years: 4,520 cases in 2001; 5,250 in 2002; 6,848 in 2003; 6,335 in 2004; and 7,138 in 2006.
Because of the high legal costs of annulment cases, a lot more people are simply splitting up without going through judicial proceedings. The DSWD has reported that in the CALABARZON area, some 40% of couples are merely living in. The percentage translates into some 90,000 couples. Either these couples are first timers who simply do not believe in legalizing their marriage, OR they were previously married and because of the legal impediments, are now just living in with their present partners.)
95% of today’s single adults still deeply desire to be married; 2,000 weddings daily in the Phillpines
And yet, despite the dreary statistics on failed marriages and broken families, marriage experts Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot say that 95% of today’s single adults still deeply desire to be married. Census figures reveal that only about 5% of people in the US over sixty five years old have remained single. Almost everyone wants to marry, plans to marry and eventually does.
Contrary to popular belief, more Filipinos get married in May than in June. According to a 2006 National Statistics Office report, there were 593,553 weddings in 2003. The “marry-est” months of the year for Filipinos are May with over 2,000 weddings daily, followed by December and January. August registered the lowest number of weddings. Why? Most probably because August is the rainiest month of the year.
Some time ago, a pastor told me of an American couple attending his church in a southern Luzon province. He told me that the husband wanted to know how he and his wife could get married here under Philippine law. The husband, fearful of the high divorce statistics in the US, said that since the Philippines doesn’t have a divorce law, his wife wouldn’t be able to divorce him if they were married (again) under Philippine laws.
The reasoning sounds good, the intention is definitely commendable but, sad to say, it’s legally flawed. Before telling you why this is so, please take note of the provisions of the New Civil Code of the Philippines cited below:
Art. 14. Penal laws and those of public security and safety shall be obligatory upon all who live or sojourn in the Philippine territory, subject to the principles of public international law and to treaty stipulations.
Art. 15. Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.
Art. 16. Real property as well as personal property is subject to the law of the country where it is stipulated.
However, intestate and testamentary successions, both with respect to the order of succession and to the amount of successional rights and to the intrinsic validity of testamentary provisions, shall be regulated by the national law of the person whose succession is under consideration, whatever may be the nature of the property and regardless of the country wherein said property may be found.
Art. 17. The forms and solemnities of contracts, wills, and other public instruments shall be governed by the laws of the country in which they are executed.
When the acts referred to are executed before the diplomatic or consular officials of the Republic of the Philippines in a foreign country, the solemnities established by Philippine laws shall be observed in their execution.
Prohibitive laws concerning persons, their acts or property, and those which have, for their object, public order, public policy and good customs shall not be rendered ineffective by laws or judgments promulgated, or by determinations or conventions agreed upon in a foreign country.
Filipinos bound by our laws, wherever they may be in the world
What these provisions say, especially Article 15, is that wherever Filipinos may be in, whether in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world, they have to follow our laws on marriage, as provided for in the Family Code. Our general legal principle is “lex loci celebrationis” which means that if a marriage by a Filipino is valid in the country where it is celebrated, then it is considered as valid here in the Philippines. But this principle does not apply in cases or situations where the Family Code has declared certain “marriages” as incestuous, bigamous or null and void for reasons of morality or public policy. Thus, a marriage between Filipinos who are first cousins may be validly solemnized in some countries but such a marriage will not be recognized as valid here in the Philippines.Also, a marriage abroad by a Filipino below 18 years of age may be valid in other countries but not here in the Philippines.
A divorce obtained by a Filipino abroad will not be recognized here in the Philippines
On the basis of Article 15 of the New Civil Code, a divorce obtained by a Filipino citizen will not be recognized here. Please read the following articles I have written on the issue of divorce and remarriage for Filipinos:
- Divorce obtained abroad by a Filipino not recognized here
- The right of a divorced Filipino spouse to remarry under Article 26 of the Family Code
- Ruffa, Ylmaz, TV Patrol, divorce and remarriage by Filipinos; John and Gretchen?
Let’s go back to that American husband who wanted to get married under Philippine law to insure that his wife will not be allowed to divorce him. Any foreigner wanting to get married here in the Philippines is required by the Family Code (Article 21) to present a “certificate of legal capacity to contract marriage” from his embassy or consulate. Thus a marriage between foreigners can be solemnized here in the Philippines, but in relation to Article 15 of the New Civil Code which I cited above, it is American law, or more specifically, the law of the state where that American is a legal resident, which will govern whether he or his wife can file for a divorce. (Although Article 15 applies precisely only to Filipinos, based on the legal principle of “processual presumption,” we can infer that the principle is the same in American law.)
Like I said, that American husband’s intention was definitely commendable but his reasoning was flawed. So was that American husband simply to be left hanging in mid-air, going through the years, continually fearful that his American wife could divorce him at any time and practically for any flimsy reason under what is known as the “no-fault divorce” laws in the US? Not necessarily; I told the pastor to tell that American husband to convert or “upgrade” his marriage into a “covenant marriage.”
Only Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana presently have covenant marriage laws
As of this date, only the states of Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana have what is known as “covenant marriage laws.” Here in the Philippines, we only have the kind of marriage provided for by the Family Code, also referred to as “contract marriage.” The Louisiana law on covenant marriage is Act 1298 of 1999, while Arizona’s covenant marriage law (enacted in August 1998) is found in Sections 25-901 through 25-906 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.
Elsewhere in the US, only “contract marriages” are available, that is, a couple wanting to get married has to get a marriage license, and in front of two witnesses, take each other as husband and wife in a ceremony solemnized by an authorized person. (Articles 1 to 34 of the Family Code provide basically the same requirements for marriages by Filipinos.) If for some reason the marriage doesn’t work out, American couples can them resort to their state’s no-fault divorce, the main ground being irreconcilable differences. California was the first state to enact a no-fault divorce, in 1969. Since that time, nearly every state in the US has enacted a no-fault divorce law. It’s called as no-fault divorce, because neither party ascribes blame for the breakdown of the marriage on the other party.
Due to the alarming increase of divorce statistics since the introduction of no-fault divorce and as a reaction against same-sex marriages (sometimes called as “commitment ceremonies”), state legislatures like that of Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana enacted their covenant marriage laws. To put it simply, a covenant marriage law makes it more difficult to get married and even more difficult to get a divorce. Basically, besides the requirements for a contract marriage, persons wanting to enter into a covenant marriage need to fulfill the following requirements:
 They must go through a pre-marital counseling provided for a state authorized marriage counselor or by a religious minister. Such counseling includes the seriousness of entering into a covenant marriage as opposed to a contract marriage, and other aspects of married life including financial management.Existing marriages in Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana are not affected by the covenant marriage laws, and persons with existing “contract marriages” can choose to convert their union into a covenant marriage. Of course, couples wanting to get married can choose, in the first place, a contract marriage instead of a covenant marriage.
 They must sign a contract or declaration stating that they have chosen their mates wisely and for life, and they bind themselves to seek counseling if their marriage encounters difficulties.
 The grounds for divorce are severely limited to adultery, physical or sexual abuse of the other spouse or of a child, abandonment for more than a year, drug or alcohol abuse, or when a spouse has been found guilty of a capital offense.
 The divorce proceedings are held in abeyance for a certain period, sometimes extending up to two years, while the couple undergoes marriage counseling.
Covenant marriage declaration
In entering into a covenant marriage, couples are required to sign a “declaration” which goes like this:
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.As I noted above, only Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana currently have covenant marriage laws. Sad to say, however, the covenant marriage bill in Oklahoma was defeated in the state legislature two or three years ago, despite the strong backing from Governor Frank Keating. In Oregon, Georgia and Texas, covenant marriage bills have passed only one house of the state legislature. (Wikipedia has a short but informative article about covenant marriage.)
With full knowledge of what this commitment means, we do declare that our marriage will be bound by Arizona 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.
Fundamentalist and evangelical churches started covenant marriage movement
The concept of covenant marriages however did not start with politicians and legislatures. Fundamentalist and evangelical churches in the US started what is now known as the “covenant marriage movement” which seeks to strengthen the institutions of marriage and the family. Just like the celebration of Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day, some churches have a designated “Covenant Marriage Sunday.” Dr. Bob Christensen has a covenant marriage ministry which offers documents that are social, moral and spiritual rather than legal contracts. Some of these contracts are the Covenant Marriage Document and the Pastor's Pledge.
There is even an unofficial, suggested covenant marriage vow poem being used by some churches. Phil & Cindy Waugh, former missionaries, also have their own covenant marriage ministries.
Dr. Gary Chapman, renowned marriage counselor, has also written a book entitled “Covenant Marriage” where he encourages couples to commit themselves to “steadfast loyalty, forgiveness, empathy, and commitment to resolving conflict so as to encourage each other in spiritual growth”. Chapman also shows how “communication and intimacy are two of the most important aspects in developing a successful covenant marriage.”
A covenant marriage law for the Philippines
Like I noted above, the Family Code of the Philippines, specifically Articles 1 to 54 of Title I, provide only for “contract marriages.” Perhaps it’s high time for our Senate and the House of Representatives to get their acts together and pass a “covenant marriage law” patterned after that of Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana.
But taking our cue from the covenant marriage movement in the US, let’s not wait for our politicians to get their acts together. Churches and pastors should have a well-thought out, consistently applied pre-marriage seminars for their members contemplating marriage. Pastors should not be content with merely talking to the prospective bride and groom for an hour or two, engaging in general topics (Do you really love each other? Do you understand the seriousness of getting married? Do you know how to cook?) and calling it as pre-marriage counseling.
In Sunday sermons or in small group seminars, there should also be continuous education for husbands and wives. Our bookstores are overflowing with books and materials on marriage and relationships, on communication between spouses, etc, and the Internet itself is an almost inexhaustible source of materials on marriage and family life.
One book I highly recommend is Bill and Lynne Hybels’ book entitled “Fit To Be Tied” (copyright 1991; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; reprinted in the Philippines by Christian Literature Crusade). Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of Bill Hybels’ theology and methodology, I can say that “Fit To be Tied” is one of the very best books I have ever read on marriage and family life. On page 35, Bill Hybels says,
Though I do few weddings now, earlier in my ministry I did all the weddings at our church. Sometimes there were three or four weddings per weekend. I would stand with my Bible open, explaining God’s guidelines for marriage. The radiant young woman and the excited young man would stand within fourteen inches of me, meeting my gaze with a beam of shared love and passion and electricity. Incredible! Then they would repeat their vows of lifelong devotion and float out of the chapel. Six months later they would crash like a plane out of the sky. Devastated. Crushed. Another dashed dream.One idea on pre-marriage counseling I have had for years is this: Persons who want to get married should inform the pastor of their marriage plans months before the set date. The pastor then requires the prospective groom to be counseled, for several weeks, by the married men of the church, and the prospective bride by the married women, over a period of time. The prospective groom and bride then exchange counselors, that is, the groom is now counseled by the married women, and the bride by the married men. As a finale, the prospective groom and bride are counseled by the married men and women as one group. (Perhaps also, the prospective groom and bride can spend some time in the houses of some volunteer couples, so they can observe first hand what married life really is all about.)
There is a Biblical basis for this kind of marriage counseling I propose. It’s found in Titus 2:1-7 which say, to wit,
1. But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:Two years ago, I talked with a newly married woman, offering to lend her my copy of Dr. Willard Harley’s book “Love Busters, Overcoming Habits That Destroy Romantic Love.” Incredibly, she said that she didn’t need to read it, or any book on marriage and relationships for that matter, because her marriage was “God-ordained.” Contrast this naive belief with what Debra Evans says in her book “The Christian Woman’s Guide to Sexuality” (copyright 1997; published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois). Speaking to wives about the realities of marriage, Evans says in page xiv,
2. That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.
3. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
4. That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
5. To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
6. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.
7. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,
8. Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.
“Marriage requires our strenuous commitment – a continuing, conscious effort to remain open and obedient to God’s transforming work in our lives – over a period, in many cases, of hundreds of months and thousands of days. A successive series of seasons will bring changes, some welcome and some not, to the cherished bond we share with our husbands. Adapting across a span of years takes us deep into the hidden places of our hearts.”So, who wants to get married? Or perhaps, the right question to ask is, Who wants to have a covenant marriage?
I do! I do!