Renewable marriage contracts. Why not?

Mexico City legislators just proposed legislation requiring prenuptial agreements for all marriages  there. The agreements would not only cover child custody issues, but also the expected duration of the marriage. The reason for this proposed legislation? The huge number of nasty and costly divorce proceedings taking up room and time in the capital’s district courts. (There was an average of 40 divorces for every 100 marriages performed between 2009-2010.)

The Roman Catholic Church has reacted harshly to this proposed legislation, calling it “absurd.” The Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese for the capital region said, “This is a proposal made by people who do not understand the nature of marriage.” I don’t know where he’s been lately, but anyone can attest to the fact that divorce has become an increasingly common occurrence. I can’t speak for Mexico City, as I don’t live there, but I’d say as many as 95 percent of the people I know who are fifty and over have experienced divorce. I’m sure none of them expected that going in, but it’s still a fact and I think it merits attention and discussion.

The proposed legislation in Mexico City suggests an estimate on the duration of a marriage contract that is no less than two years, and as long as “’til death do us part.” Personally, I think this suggestion makes great sense. Marriage, by civic standards, is a contract, despite what the Roman Church might state, and I think that having a discussion about the terms of this contract, prior to signing it, is a prudent and sensible thing to do. Isn’t that the understanding with any contractual agreement that we sign?

I’m not married now, but I’ve written about almost doing so when I was twenty-four years old (see “I Canceled My Wedding.”) Fortunately, I canceled it ten days before, rather than ignoring my second thoughts and going through all the paces, which would have led to watching the marriage sour and a likely eventual divorce. Our relationship lasted seven years, a time marker that stayed with me.

Since that experience, I have often opined that marriage contracts should be offered in defined year-increments with the option of renewal. Seven seems like a good number, since most of the cells in our bodies completely change every seven years and we symbolically become new people in that time frame. At least, that’s a general concept. Not to mention, the “seven year itch,” which is a real thing, according to studies. Why not make marriage licenses into renewable seven year contracts?  Then, when the time approaches for renewal, you can revisit what you have, discuss it with your partner, and decide if you’d like to renew.

This contractual arrangement is likely to keep people from taking their marital relationships for granted. I’ve been with my love Henri for nearly ten years now. He agrees with my renewable contract concept and when we got to our own seven year mark, we happily agreed to renew. For us, it’s not a written contract that we share, but one of mutual understanding. We also don’t have children (not counting our kitties, of course.) If we did, I agree with one columnist who suggested twenty years as the possible minimal term for a couple who wants children.

People get married for many different reasons. Why not revisit our approach to marriage and treat it as the contract that it truly is? Discuss all the terms. Agree to them.  If “’til death do us part” is the way you want to go, then so be it, that can be the length you determine. Romance is wonderful, but at least honest communication and mutual understanding will be part of the deal before you both sign on the dotted line.

My guess is that couples will be happier and their relationships healthier by approaching marriage this way. There would be less divorce and many more happy marriages in the world.

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Dare to be Fabulous
Dare to be Fabulous
1 month ago

That post was written in 2011, so I am writing this comment as an addendum: Henri and I married in 2013, so we have now been together twenty-one years, ten of them with a formal civic contract. What prompted us to get married after eleven years together? In a nutshell, we wanted the law on our side.

These are the facts: we’re both self-employed, which means that we each pay fully into our respective social security funds at tax time; we do not get to split that financial contribution with an employer. If we aren’t legally married, when one of us dies, that hard-earned social security money goes nowhere. It stays in the system, and there is no way to stipulate otherwise. Social security funds will only go to a survivor if you are legally married. Full stop. And that’s a big deal. Add to that, we are getting older, we have no kids, and we want to ensure that the law will recognize our respective rights to call the shots for the other if/when one of us experiences illness or dies.

It doesn’t sound particularly romantic, does it? Truly, we already felt a deep and beautiful bond. We weren’t into the pomp-and-circumstance of a conventional wedding, so we planned to elope, but after some persuading, we opted for a very small ceremony at a family home with only immediate family in attendance. Simple and sweet, with vows that reflected our values.

The anniversary date we celebrate remains the date our relationship began twenty one years ago, but that doesn’t make our marriage date any less meaningful.