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% 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 here about almost doing so when I was 24 years old (see “I Canceled My Wedding.”) Fortunately, I opted out in time, 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. That relationship lasted a total of seven years, so that’s a time marker that has stayed with me.

Since that experience, I have often opined that marriage contracts should be offered in definite year increments, with the option of renewal. Seven seems like a good number, due to the concept that our cells and our bodies completely change in seven year increments, and that we subsequently live our lives in seven year cycles. At least, that’s a known hypothesis. (Thus, the “seven year itch.”) Why not make marriage licenses into renewable seven year contracts?  Then, when the time is approaching 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 also 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 a renewal. 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 in this way. There will be a lot less divorce and a lot more happier marriages in the world.