By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/29/2004 7:43:24 PM ET 2004-12-30T00:43:24

After eight months of dating, Sarah Watson and Michael Rector are about to take the plunge, but first they participate in the pre-marital counseling required by Arkansas law for couples choosing a unique union called "covenant marriage."

"I think we were both kind of hesitant, but knew that we needed to do it," says Michael.

Covenant marriage is optional. It's designed to combat a divorce rate that has doubled since the 1950s. In general, covenant marriage laws lay ground rules that limit reasons for divorce to spousal or child abuse, imprisonment for a felony and infidelity. And before most divorces can be filed, couples are usually required to seek counseling during a mandatory waiting period that can, in some cases, last up to two years.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee believes in the idea so strongly that he and his wife of 31 years plan to convert to a covenant marriage in February. He's campaigning to get 1,000 other couples to join them.

"In Arkansas, it's easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get a contract for purchasing a used car," says Gov. Huckabee.

But even the governor says it's too soon to know how effective covenant weddings have been at preventing divorces in Arkansas. Still, a number of states are considering adopting similar laws. In addition to Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana have passed covenant marriage laws, while 25 more have proposed them.

"There's a generalized anxiety out there about the fact that we may have too much divorce," says Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology at John Hopkins University. "What's also out there though is people wanting their own individual freedom."

Newlyweds Steve and Brooke Ruffin signed Arkansas' marriage covenant.

"Having signed that document just made sure that this is forever," says Steve.

The Ruffins call it an insurance policy — a pledge to work through tough times. They hope their marriage covenant gives them the tools to ride it out.

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