The Senate Judiciary Committee meets this morning on the House-passed bill by Rep. Nelda Speaks of Mountain Home to add mental abuse as a ground for divorce under the covenant marriage act of 2001.

Covenant marriage was a gimmick dreamed up by fundamentalists (Mike Huckabee was a champion here), but adopted in only three states. It has been only rarely used in Arkansas, about 1 in every 150 marriages (only about 1,900 in a nine-year period studied by the Health Department). It’s supposed to promote preservation of marriage, but it has also managed to lock some people in unhappy unions. Now, physical or sexual abuse of a spouse or child or two years of separation are the only grounds for a divorce.

Speaks wants to add mental abuse.  I’m sure many could testify how damaging this can be.

The so-called Family Council, a right-wing religious/political organization, doesn’t see it that way. It’s rallying its troops this morning against the effort to “gut” the law.


The covenant marriage license is a program that helps prevent divorce and encourages couples to try to work through difficulty rather than divorcing. A couple with a covenant marriage can file for divorce if physical or sexual abuse has occurred or if the couple has been separated for two years, but they cannot file for no-fault divorce.

H.B. 1361 by Rep. Nelda Speaks (R-Mountain Home) adds “mental abuse” to the list of reasons a couple with a covenant marriage may divorce.

However, the bill doesn’t say what is or is not “mental abuse.” Practically anything could qualify as “mental abuse” under this bill—meaning a couple with a covenant marriage could divorce for practically any reason.

This undermines the entire purpose of the Covenant Marriage Act.

Arkansas, you may know, continues to have one of the country’s highest divorce rates, covenant marriage law or no.

UPDATE: No action in committee today.