Rewriting the Marriage Contract

woman filling employment offer document

The marriage contract, as we now know it, makes no sense in the 21st century. And the proof is in the incredibly high rate at which the contract is broken. Sure, when you were homesteading on the plains, it made perfect sense to pair up, huddle against the elements, have a bunch of kids, send Dad and Billy and little Alice out to do the farming while Mom prepares three square meals. If you wanted a sexual partner in those days, your choices were pretty much limited to a spouse or a professional. Many people went through life with only one sexual partner.

But if two upwardly mobile working professionals decide to tie the knot in 2015, they are looking at a very different economic, moral and sexual landscape. They are likely to have had several sexual partners. The female is more likely to be financially independent. Divorce, although still extremely painful, no longer carries the moral stigma that it once did. And the marriage contract should be ammended to reflect these changes.

But before you start crying “blasphemy” and blaming me for hammering the final nail in a coffin labeled “Here lies Romance!”, keep in mind I’m only talking about civil marriages here. If anyone wants to get married in a house of worship and vow fealty until only death parts you, go for it. It won ‘t have any legal standing in my world, but it might make your parents feel a lot better about attending (and perhaps even paying for) the great event.

In France, they introduced a no-fault marriage contract that made it very simple to walk away when and if the magic disappeared. It was designed for same sex couples to make sure they were given equal civil rights, but 70% of the applicants were straight couples who were presumably looking for an easy way out if the marriage didn’t last.

marriage contract

Remember when love was blind? You were in your early 20’s and that’s what you did when you met that certain someone. Oh, and your parents were still married…to each other, no less. Divorces were rare, and kids from “broken homes” were stigmatized. But growing up with so much divorce, and having more sexual outlets, marriage becomes a very daunting risk/reward prospect.

Last weekend, I had dinner with a couple of 30-somethings. When the conversation turned to marriage, they were all very open about their trepidation and fear of failure. They know that statistically the chance of their first marriage succeeding is about 50-50. Flip a coin!

So here’s my pitch. Have a big wedding if you wish, get married by a Priest or a Rabbi or an Elvis impersonator. Then go to Whatcom County Courthouse and sign a marriage contract that makes sense in the modern world with provisions for children, joint property taxes, and inheritance, including a no-fault divorce. Five years, renewable. If it’s working, have a renewal of vows party and invite your friends. If it’s not, shake hands, each take what you came in with and what you contributed and go your separate ways. If you have children, the contract is extended until the youngest child turns 18, with separation and custody provisions pre-negotiated. You can’t remarry until the original contract runs its course. (Second and third marriages have a much higher rate of failure.)

The divorce lawyers won’t like it, but it makes a lot of sense.

Originally published in the LaConner Weekly.

Mel Damski –
The Producing-Director of the TV series “Psych” and winner of the Best General Interest Column by the Washinghton Newspaper Association.