At first glance this is probably going to sound nuts. To say the least this idea goes against our traditional view of society that a marriage should be “for better or for worse” and should last “as long as you both shall live”. But given that the average marriage lasts seven years and the divorce rate in this country is about 50 percent, it may be that most couples don’t take the commitment with the needed sobriety. Or it may also be that the system of marriage itself is wacked and needs some major adjustments.
Let’s just hypothetically say that when a couple went to the courthouse to get a marriage license they could check off the terms: 1 year, 5 years, 10 years or life. There could also be a checkbox: renew automatically or expire after term.
As an incentive to keep the marriage together, there would be legal penalties if the marriage ended early in divorce. Any attempt to leave the marriage prior to the expiration of the contract would require a penalty of some sort. But perhaps since healthy marriage is considered to be of a benefit to society, maybe there should also be government rewards for renewing contracts, say a $100 tax credit per year, payable upon renewal of the marriage contract.
If divorce occurs before the contract is up and one party is found at fault then the one “at fault” should perhaps pay a penalty of some sort to the government. As a working number let’s make it a civil penalty of $1000. If the marriage is dissolved by joint agreement with no “at fault” finding then both parties would pay the penalty equally, in addition to any regular fees required by divorce courts to process paperwork. Given the current divorce statistics this would mean a nice revenue stream for state and local governments.
So what is the upside? From my perspective it encourages spouses to actively work on their marriage and to address issues that might be causing a marriage to flounder. If marriage is for life then there is little incentive to work on relationship issues until some sort of crisis occurs. Then, if the behavior is not too egregious, perhaps it can be worked out in counseling or therapy. But knowing there is a deadline coming up when a marriage can terminate, both parties have reason to address their relationship issues seriously.
Admittedly children raise a layer of complication and I haven’t thought out those issues in any detail. Perhaps the law would state that if children result from the marriage then marriage contracts would renew by default, or that both parties would agree to binding arbitration on the matter of child custody. Clearly we want to encourage healthy marriages with children and discourage broken homes. (Hmm, suggesting that children of broken marriages must be go into orphanages might be quite an inducement to work on marital problems! This is just a wild idea; not one to seriously contemplate.)
Another upside is that if a marriage is just not working out it allows both parties to get out of it with a minimum of feelings hurt and no penalties when the term expires. “Well, we tried and gave it our best and it just didn’t work.” Both parties would then feel free to move on with life and grow in a direction they need to grow.
Admittedly I am a real “think outside the box” sort of person and I suspect if this idea were entertained seriously I’d be having bricks coming through my windows on a regular basis. But the idea holds some appeal to me. I notice in myself I want to continually dodge relationship issues with my wife; if nothing else something like this would force me to concentrate on the matter rather than let problems fester.