Should marriage be a renewable contract?

Alyssa McDonald in The Sydney Morning Herald today proposes 'making marriage a renewable contract rather than a lifetime promise that's too easily broken'. It's not a new idea - as long ago as 1971 two state legislators in Maryland, USA, proposed the 'renewable marriage'. They called for making marriage a three-year contract, with an option to renew every three years by the mutual consent of both partners, whereas McDonald suggests that marriage certificates expire after 10 years or, for parents, once the youngest child reaches 21, 'at which point the parties will be able to renew, or just call it a day'.

The idea that marriage should not necessarily be for life is intended to fit in with the realities of modern relationships. However, whilst I do like this kind of 'thinking out of the box', I'm not entirely convinced of the benefits of this particular idea. Does it matter that the 'marriage for life' promise (whether express or implicit) is too easily broken? After all, the promise is genuine when it is made.

Even if marriage were to be for a fixed, renewable term, would that make any difference? Obviously, the length of the contract is an issue. However, if a marriage breaks down, then the parties (or at least one of them) are hardly going to want to wait until the next 'expiry date' before getting out, even if that will avoid having to go through the legal process of divorce, unless I suppose that expiry date happens to be imminent.

In any event, dissolving a marriage is not too difficult in most cases, and is going to be even easier if we have a completely no-fault system, as appears likely. Of course, resolving the ancillary issues of arrangements for any dependent children and financial/property matters may not be so straightforward, but these will still have to be resolved if the marriage simply 'expires' (OK, not in McDonald's model), rather than is dissolved.

Or am I just applying 'divorce lawyer thinking' to the matter?


  1. My guts feeling for this was 'what a horrible idea', then I started questioning that from a rational point of view, and in the end tried to quantify exactly what my position on this was, and why.

    At the end of the day, in my opinion, it all comes down to what you view the point of marriage as. Is it a formal commitment between two people for the rest of their lives. Or is it simply a mutually convenient way of arranging affairs to give legal status to your relationship for the time being?

    Somehow 'I want to spend the next three years with you' just doesn't have the same ring to it as 'til death do us part'.

    It also begs the question of what would happen to those less than organised people who forget to renew their marriage arrangement? Would it be better to have an auto-renew arrangement, or an auto-fail? Of course, there are all sorts of questions that start to arise getting into the technical aspects of such an idea, as you mentioned.

    At the end of the day, my feel on this would be that it wouldn't solve very many problems. It wouldn't really solve any of the emotional stresses of relationship breakdown, unless both parties were in agreement that it wasn't working. Even then, the final decision to 'call it a day' would still have to be made. There would simply be a push to consider whether it was worth carrying on or not, something to focus the mind one way or another. As you've already mentioned, it wouldn't aid in solving issues arising from ancillary relief and arrangements for children. And it certainly wouldn't help (if, for example, such an arrangement was for a fixed time, rather than children's ages) give long term stability to a family arrangement (and, arguably, feeling less stable than an unmarried relationship).

  2. Thanks for that. Another 'no' vote, then! Still, it's an interesting idea.

  3. Oh, I agree that it's an interesting idea. I just don't know that it's a good interesting idea! Or, rather, whether it would actually help things. I doubt that there is really any way to legislate for human emotions...

  4. I think it's a good idea. Given the demise of marriage and pre-nups becoming law and no fault divorce.

    Thinking outside the box to get the young ones down the aisle. The Church may even back it as an idea given they are after Gay people to swell their ranks and the Catolics may say ok to priests marrying. Same sort of ideas these, need to change, adapt or die, bit Darwinian (don't like the style), but I think it explains my point.

    Given the reaction on Any questions on the radio to pre nups and no fault divorce we may not do any of these three things, although I expect the three come together and will do soonish.


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