Like many people, I got married with surprisingly little understanding that marriage is essentially a financial merger. Unfortunately, this became all too clear when my wife filed for divorce. Although I had made all the payments on the house and had far less debt, I had to buy “her” half of the house from her and ended up being financially broken (but not bankrupt) by this process. Based on my own experience, I agree with William Quiqley’s modest proposal that potential spouses receive a full disclosure of their legal and financial obligations before they have their merger.
His proposal makes excellent sense. After all, people should be aware of their responsibilities when entering into any legally binding arrangement-especially one that involves their entire financial life (or at least a large portion of it). While people are supposed to know about what they are getting into and everyone has heard the horror stories about divorces, it seems that most people do not fully understand the legal aspects of marriage and it is clearly remiss that the state grants licenses without providing such information.
Interestingly, Mexico City law makers have proposed a bill intended to address the court clogging legal battles between divorcing couples. This bill would require couples to create a pre-nuptual agreement that would create a contract specifying what would occur if the couple divorces. This would include financial matters as well as issues regarding children. The intent is, of course, to reduce the burden on the courts and allow divorces to be settled quickly. Since the divorce rate about 40%, this certainly makes sense. It also makes sense because the couple would know what their exact obligations will be and they will not be going into a serious financial contract blindly.
One rather controversial aspect of the proposal is that the marriages are supposed to have predicted timed of termination. Couples can, of course, use the traditional termination: “until death do us part” or they can opt for a shorter contract. Since other financial contracts can have termination dates, this seems sensible enough. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church in Mexico is outraged by this. However, they have little moral authority from which to argue and the reasons in favor of the bill seem far more compelling than the usual vague appeals to God and family values. After all, it hardly seems to enhance family values to have brutal legal battles over divorces.
The bill also requires couples to take classes about marriage. This also makes sense. After all, people are required to learn how to drive before getting a driver’s license because driving is dangerous. Marriage is also dangerous: as a friend of mine puts it, you have a 50% chance of losing 50% of your stuff. Hence, people should go into that potential disaster with all the preparation they can get.
At this point, someone will probably raise the matter of love and the subject of religion. After all, marriage is supposed to be about love and there is often a religious element.
In regards to love, love has as much to do with the legal aspects of marriage as it has to do with any financial contract: none at all. There is, as people point out, no love test or even a love requirement for marriage. There is often an assumption of love, but this has no bearing in terms of the license. This might seem heartless of me, but you can check into the matter yourself. Lest I be considered a cold beast, let it be known that I think love is great. Like running and friendship, it is one of the great goods in human life. However, people can marry without being in love and people can be in love in every meaningful way without being married.
But, one might say, does not marriage serve to show the ultimate commitment to love? My reply is that people do think this, but marriage is a legal contract that is primarily financial in nature. A person can commit in every emotional way without such a legal merger. But, one might say, how can couples express their love? Well, my obvious reply is that they can treat each other with love and do all those things that show love. In fact, I propose that their be a Love Oath or Union of Love created in which couples can make a (non-financial) bond of love. They can have a ceremony (with cake, of course) and it can even be recognized by the state with a certificate of love. However, it would have no financial or legal aspects to it-it would be pure love.
But, one might cry, what about all the legal rights of marriage? My modest proposal here is actually two proposals. The first is that couples could do the traditional legal marriage with all the legal obligations and rights. My second is that the various legal obligations and rights could be selected and put into a specific contract. It is absurd that the marriage merger is a one size fits all deal when any other contract can be custom made. As such, I propose that a Civil Contract of Union be created that would allow couples to specify the legal aspects of their legal contract. I also contend that many of the rights should be open to non-“married” people. For example, people should be able to designate the people who get to visit them in the hospital. This Civil Contract of Union would satisfy people who marry for the sake of the legal rights and obligations. Naturally, it can be combined with the Union of Love.
Lastly, a religious person might note that nothing has been said about religion and marriage. As I see it, God can sort this out. After all, He is omnipotent so He can make it so marriage works anyway He wants. For example, He could make it so that couples who are not marrying for love are unable to complete their vows or their rings shatter. He could make it so that when same sex couples try to get married, their clothes catch on fire and the wedding cake is consumed by locusts. So, until God says otherwise, we can go with my proposals.
But, one might yell, what about the religious fol? Am I not being a bit of a jerk about this? Surely I cannot be so cynical as to truly believe such things? In reply, I do admit the importance of religion to some people and this should be acknowledged. As such, I propose a third union, the Theological Union. This would be a ceremony designed and conducted by the relevant religious institutions to sanctify unions. It would have no legal status at all (that would require the Civil Contract of Union) but could be given whatever religious significance the religious authorities wished to put into it. They could even make a nifty certificate and there should, of course, be cake. I am sure God likes cake. The Theological Unions also have the advantage that the various religious groups and people who are very worried about traditional marriage can make their Theological Unions as traditional as they like. Since these unions would have no legal weight, those authorizing them can exclude whoever they want and presumably be free of any legal worries (or not, maybe people could sue if a church, for example, banned white people from getting a Theological Union).
I believe that my proposal provides a rational solution to the marriage problem and one that can make everyone unhappy-which is a mark of a good compromise.