“Marriages are made in heaven.”
Here’s what we cover:
The Arizona Legislature has declared that the purposes of marriage are to promote strong families and strong family values. There are two types of marriages in Arizona:
- non-covenant marriage
- covenant marriage
In this section, we will examine the laws relating to non-covenant marriages. Covenant marriages, which require the parties to receive premarital counseling and to commit in writing to take all reasonable efforts to preserve their marriage, are discussed in the next section.
Getting married in Arizona is relatively easy. There is no residency requirement. There is no waiting period. And, no tests are required. The fee for a marriage license is $72.
Not everyone may legally marry, however. The law forbids marriage between people closely related1 and between persons of the same sex. Persons under the age of 18 may not marry without the consent of their custodial parent or guardian. Persons under 16 must also obtain the approval of an Arizona superior court judge.
A valid marriage in Arizona requires:
- the issuance of a marriage license by the clerk of the superior court
- a ceremony performed by a duly ordained or licensed clergyman, or a judge, and at which at least two adult witnesses participate.
In addition, the marriage must be solemnized (entered into) before the expiration of the marriage license. The license expires one year from the date of issuance.
Illustration: The prospective bride and groom obtained a marriage license, but then postponed the wedding. They were married in a ceremony performed by their clergyman 13 months after the marriage license was issued. Because the marriage license expired before the ceremony, the marriage is not valid.
If either party to the marriage ceremony has not been divorced from a prior spouse, the marriage is invalid. A person who is legally separated may not remarry until the prior marriage is dissolved.
A marriage conducted in another state or country is valid in Arizona so long as it was valid under the laws of the place where it was contracted, with the exception of a prohibited union referenced above.
A Note About Common Law Marriages
A common law marriage is one that is not solemnized in the ordinary way (i.e., non-ceremonial), but created by an agreement to marry, followed by cohabitation.
Arizona does not allow or recognize common law marriages contracted within the state, but will recognize a valid common law marriage contracted in another state. The validity of a common law marriage is determined by the laws of the state in which it was contracted.
“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; …”
—Covenant Marriage Declaration
The concept of covenant marriage was first introduced in Arizona in 1998, by the adoption of the Covenant Marriage Act. Persons who have the legal capacity to marry may enter into a covenant marriage by declaring their intent to do so on their application for a marriage license and by complying with the covenant marriage statutes. A declaration of intent to enter into a covenant marriage must contain certain written statements by the prospective husband and the prospective wife, including a promise to seek marital counseling if they experience marital difficulties.
The Declaration must also contain an affidavit by the parties that they have received premarital counseling from a member of the clergy or from a marriage counselor. The statute requires that premarital counseling include:
- a discussion of the seriousness of covenant marriage
- communication of the fact that a covenant marriage is a commitment for life
- a discussion of the obligation to seek marital counseling in times of difficulties
- a discussion of the exclusive grounds for legally terminating a covenant marriage by dissolution of marriage or legal separation. A notarized statement that is signed by the clergy or counselor must be submitted with the application for marriage license.
The Arizona Supreme Court has published a pamphlet entitled “Covenant Marriage in Arizona.” This informational pamphlet is provided to the parties during their premarital counseling. It is also available online at: www.supreme.state.az.us/dr/Pdf/covenant.pdf.
Conversion of Existing Marriage to Covenant Marriage
An existing marriage may be converted to a covenant marriage. A husband and wife may enter into a covenant marriage by submitting to the clerk of the superior court the Declaration and a sworn statement of their names and the date and place their marriage was contracted, and by paying a filing fee. A husband and wife who apply for a covenant marriage are not required to receive premarital counseling, and they are not required to have the converted marriage separately solemnized.
Dissolution of Covenant Marriage
If a husband and wife have entered into a covenant marriage, the court cannot enter a decree of dissolution of marriage unless it finds one of the following:
- the respondent spouse (i.e., the spouse against whom the divorce is filed) has committed adultery
- the respondent spouse has committed a felony and has been sentenced to death or imprisonment
- the respondent spouse has abandoned the marital home for at least a year and refuses to return
- the respondent spouse has physically or sexually abused the spouse seeking the dissolution of marriage, a child, a relative living in the marital home, or has committed domestic violence or emotional abuse
- the spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for at least two years before the filing of the petition for dissolution
- the spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for at least one year from the date the decree of legal separation was entered
- the respondent spouse has habitually abused drugs or alcohol
- the husband and wife both agree to a dissolution of marriage
Decree of Legal Separation
If a husband and wife have entered into a covenant marriage, the court cannot enter a decree of legal separation unless it finds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7 above, or that the respondent spouse’s habitual intemperance or ill treatment of the other spouse renders their living together insupportable.
By contrast to the above, if a husband and wife have not entered into a covenant marriage, the court may enter a decree of dissolution or a decree of legal separation upon finding that the marriage of the parties is “irretrievably broken.” This finding may be based solely on the allegation of one spouse, and does not require a finding of fault by either party.
The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Donald A. Loose is an Arizona attorney, and the author of Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, and Estate Planning in Arizona: What You Need to Know. Mr. Loose is a regular guest on radio shows featuring local newsmaker interviews. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.