Contributed by Kristin Pawlik
As I sit here observing the cane toad racing festival that is the Regular Session of the 93rd General Assembly, I am so discouraged (understatement) by the apparent desire of some lawmakers to commit our children to living in high conflict marriages despite the well-recognized, negative effects of those environments. As a married, practicing Catholic and mother of 3, I know that marriage, for many of us, is the longest term project we’ll ever undertake. Today’s problems may seem insignificant tomorrow, but small grievances also fester into gaping wounds. The parties to a successful marriage must value commitment and hard work, grace, forgiveness, respect and, of course, love- but not all in equal measure. In one season, love might overshadow hard work; in another forgiveness and commitment might matter the most. And when it’s not possible to live peacefully in the marriage anymore, then leaving it without abandoning respect and compassion toward the other spouse should be the goal.
In common use, a covenant is simply an agreement; but, in theology, a covenant is a commitment between God and his people. A while back, Arkansans chose a pastor as governor, and from that union was born THE COVENANT MARRIAGE ACT OF 2001. An abomination of legal construct- couples who elect a covenant marriage under the act (also known as the SuperWeds) agree to receive the designation under the condition that they give up the right to get divorced under ordinary grounds for divorce such as General Indignities or 18 months’ separation. Instead, they are bound together in spite of suffering the indignities of settled hate, contempt, ridicule in front of friends and family members. Only adultery and abuse provide an exit without a multi-year separation- and if there are children, the period of separation prior to divorce is even longer. This is where the subjecting the kids to the misery of the adults really happens. Family law lawyers can tell stories of spouses manufacturing abuse, calling the police or jumping into the bed of another- looking for a way out of a covenant marriage. Miserable people will devise all sorts of ways to stop their own suffering- and most of those bring pain to those around them. Covenant marriages lead to wickedly ugly divorces.
Arkansas does not have divorce based on irreconcilable differences or incompatibility. Reasonable lawmakers were defeated by those who thought divorcing in such a way that one spouse doesn’t have to badmouth the other would encourage more folks to get divorced. As if the happily-marrieds or even the staying-marrieds would cave into iniquity if only it was downhill to the courthouse.
We can do more in Arkansas to encourage decency in divorcing, and we can start by Abolishing the Covenant Marriage and adopting Irreconcilable Differences.
Maybe next session.