Lots of food for thought in the Till_Death_or_20_Years_Do_Us_Part article about marriage in today’s New York Times. While not a lot of people (in the United States at least) are advocating renewable marriage contracts, there are some interesting thoughts about marriage in general.
Pepper Schwartz, a marriage/ family researcher and professor at the University of Washington points out ” Nobody pretended this (marriage) was not an economic arrangement.” So maybe treating the expected duration of a marriage as a contractual obligation would add some certainty and logic to a very uncertain (and illogical) situation.
The current president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Ken Altshuler, is even more pragmatic. He points out (and I agree) that the development of spousal maintenance guidelines would make even more sense if specific-duration marriages were considered. His perspective, which certainly comes from the position of handling divorces for decades, notes that maybe it does make sense to codify a marriage with a contract that is renewable (or cancellable) after a certain number of years. Why not? The current system is somewhat of a fantasy. “[G]iven the lie we’re currently telling ourselves . . . . There’s still a fantasy of Ozzie and Harriet, and if that’s what we’ve decided we’re striving for, we are failing miserably. So perhaps we need to change our expectations so we’re not so unhappy.”
Dr. Robert Emery also weighs in on the effects of divorce on children. A marriage contract could have the effect of reducing the stigma of divorce and creating “a cultural sense that divorce is part of life.” While children may never be particularly happy about parents separating, if the cultural stigma is gone, they at least wouldn’t need to be embarrassed about the divorce on top of everything else.
The final comments of this article may be the most valuable. A sociology professor suggests that the fantasy world of the wedding planning itself should be banned. “Ban all performative weddings, ban all crazy expenditures,” says Valerie Rutter of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. “Ban the marriage pages in The New York Times. Ban those things that turn otherwise sensible people to start buying into that fantasy.”
After spending close to 30 years undoing the marriages that resulted from ridiculously expensive weddings (and probably equally ridiculous expectations for the relationship), it’s hard not to agree with Rutter.
A great article!