Marriage as a Commercial Contract

There is always so much in the news about divorce and its impact on families and children. Primarily because so many people get divorced – one out of two marriages in the US and similar stats are found in virtually every industrialized country. But also because of the often salacious, seamy, and scandalous nature of divorce makes for good news copy. If it bleeds it leads is a well-known phrase in the newspaper business and most divorces sure do provide enough “blood” to warrant headlines.

What is it about divorces that make them fodder for the masses? Sure, a lot of people like to read about celebrity scandals – Arnold Schwarzenegger and his illegitimate love child with the family housekeeper; The LA Dodgers’ owners the McCourts and their $1 million a month in living expenses; Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s cheating mess and (lack of) Twitter tweets. But what is it really that drives us to write about, read about, and gossip about couples divorcing? It’s akin to rubber necking during a highway accident – it’s terrible to look at but you feel compelled to see the human suffering that caused that 5 mile backup on the beltway. It’s the tragedy that captures our interest and the thought that ‘there but for the Grace of God, go I’ feeling that it could surely happen to any one of us; No one is immune. It’s emotional, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding stuff. No wonder people are fascinated with the macabre that’s divorce.

So when I read about a proposed new law in Mexico City that would have couples who wish to marry create a contract for the seemingly inevitable end of the marriage, it made me think about the tragedy of divorce and whether marriage is still a spiritual union or really a commercial contract. Perhaps if couples chose to treat the marriage as a contract then maybe the breach of the contract would not feel as egregious? It’s just business, right? Or maybe if all the details were worked out in advance, then there would be little to gossip about when the marriage ends? Further, if it is a commercial contract then there’s a definite end date when the marriage would “expire”. In the proposed Mexico City law, that would be a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of “until death do us part.”

Would it make people more likely to stay in an unhappy marriage if they knew that it would be over – per the contract – in 5 years, 10 years, or even next year? Do we add automatic renewal clauses? Is this the way to prevent divorce by making the marriage finite instead of a lifelong commitment? Divorce lawyers would turn into contract lawyers and tabloid newspapers would have less fuel for fires. I mean really, who is that interested in the dry and dusty terms and clauses of most contracts? Mostly only lawyers and geeks. Maybe this is the answer to the 50% failure rate of marriages. What say you?

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