Temporary Marriage: the next big thing?
September 30, 2011 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Temporary marriage: the next big thing? The divorce rate in Mexico City is huge, with half of marriages ending within two years. Some lawmakers there are introducing a reform to the civil code that would make marriage contracts renewable, with a minimum of two years.

"The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.
"The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends," said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.
"You wouldn't have to go through the tortuous process of divorce," said Luna, from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has the most seats in the 66-member chamber."

Over at Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams wonders if it's a good idea:

"How different might the experience of marriage be if both participants in it were subject to periodic, mutual review? The chance to say, here's what's working, here's what's changed, here's what needs improvement? The opportunity, even, to say, maybe it's time to move on? Why not acknowledge that a great five-year run could be more satisfying than a 30-year sentence?

Not everything about the temporary marriage idea is perfect -- it certainly could make it easier for partners to absolve themselves of responsibility when the going gets tough, either because of money, kids or any number of real-world challenges. But guess what? Marriages bust up all the time over those issues anyway, and with plenty messy consequences."

It especially might be a good idea for celebrities.
posted by jenfullmoon (31 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
For the record, I pretty much feel the way Williams does: if every year you had to think hard about whether or not you wanted to stay in the marriage, and actually take action to SAVE it, that might just be beneficial to the relationship.

I suspect the bill has no shot at passing, though. At the very least because of kids, separating money, etc. Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ok, but what is the point then?

Granted, I think marriage is pretty largely irrelevant these days anyway, but if you're signing up for just two years, then why get married at all? Seems like more unnecessary paperwork, and treating the symptoms but not the disease.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

As usual the Subgeniuses had it right!

Or at least, a different kind of wrong.
posted by chronkite at 3:42 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I lived with my wife for almost 20 years before the health insurance industry decided we really needed to get married. Whenever anyone asked us about it I liked to say, "We have a great relationship, why should we let the government screw it up?" I do think that the freedom to split made us work a bit harder to keep it going, although once we bought the house in '92 it was never going to be a matter of just picking up bags again; kinda hard to get divorced from a mortgage.
posted by localroger at 3:42 PM on September 30, 2011

Also, there is a rather nasty depiction of where this could lead in a dystopian cyberpunk future in Woman on the Edge of Time.
posted by localroger at 3:43 PM on September 30, 2011

if every year you had to think hard about whether or not you wanted to stay in the marriage, and actually take action to SAVE it, that might just be beneficial to the relationship.

I'm not quite as anti-marriage as some might think (hi, honey!), but I've often thought of this as a current that can run beneath a strong unmarried relationship.

"I'm not bound by children, religion, law or custom. Each day, I choose to be here, with you."

Scary, maybe, in a working-without-a-safety-net way, but at least you know where you stand.
posted by rokusan at 3:49 PM on September 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

Why not streamline the divorce process?
posted by 2N2222 at 3:54 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The point is to be realistic about the institution of marriage. (Yes, conservatives, marriage is changing, regardless of whether you want gays to be betrothed or not).

Marriage obviously has a very strong romantic component... but a far older, and much more pragmatic, economic one. People get married for all sorts of reasons, and separated for just as many. If both partners have stars in their eyes, great: sign a lifelong marriage contract, with all the conditions of a traditional partnership, however that may be defined. Nothing changes for them. But if not - if the bride(s) or groom(s) recognizes that it is likely that they will be in a very different place in two, five, or ten years - then placing a limit on that commitment, and providing an opportunity for sober review after a period of time, is much more sensible, at least to me.

Done right, it could cut down on infidelity ("I'd love to run away to Tuscany with you... but can we wait six months? The penalties for default in my contract are really harsh") and avoid the all-too-common phenomenon of totally miserable, angry parents staying together "for the children".

There are many, many different ways to make a partnership and a family. This is just another step in the law (slowly) coming to recognize that, and adapt to it.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:58 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is treating the symptom instead of the disease. Convince people that the can have sex, meaningful relationships, and even children without having to be married first and you'll see fewer divorces.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:05 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Why not ask Shi'a Muslims how this works? They've had it for a while.
posted by mullingitover at 4:15 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the divorce process in Mexico City? The divorce process in many parts of the U.S. is already pretty streamlined,

"You wouldn't have to go through the tortuous process of divorce," suggests the divorce process in Mexico is, well, tortuous. I'll admit to having no experience there, however.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:15 PM on September 30, 2011

This seems like a good idea. It directly addresses a problem that would be hard to address in any other way, that lot's of people who get married really shouldn't and there's no practical way to differentiate them from the good matches. They could make it like a provisional driver's license, you can get married for 2 years and if that works you can opt for a longer term. It does lack the serious romance of pledging your love forever, and it will not pass muster for some, if not most, churches but in terms of simplifying all of the crap that surrounds establishing and dissolving domestic partnerships it looks like pure win.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:24 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Mexico City? The Church will surely put a stop to this.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:34 PM on September 30, 2011

If I was a polygamist, I would want this so I could ladder my wives like my certificates of deposit.
posted by michaelh at 4:38 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is somewhat like my marriage with Lizjohn. We do an annual contract renewal rather than an anniversary. It works for us.
posted by The Potate at 4:55 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wife heard this story on NPR last night and was telling me about it. It's a fascinating idea.

What fascinates me most is the idea that you would need to work out the terms of dissolution in advance—basically, every couple would get married with a pre-nup. This should make them think hard about the big questions that perhaps not everybody does.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine a "template marriage contract" emerging that many couples opt for without really reading it through. Then, maybe 10 years down the road, a couple decides to let the contract lapse and one of them discovers the terms aren't to his or her liking. At which point the courts say "tough."

At risk of derailing, when people talk about a future with extreme life-extension, one of the inevitable questions the idea raises is lifetime marriage as the default. If you're likely to live for 500 years, do you want to commit to spending ~470 married to the same person? The idea of fixed-term marriages becomes almost inevitable in that case.

Mexico City already has legalized gay marriage, and provides abortions for free to women up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, so they've already pissed off the Catholic church quite thoroughly.
posted by adamrice at 5:47 PM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I hope this doesn't spread to the US. My husband might ask for a divorce just so he could renegotiate our marriage to include a Salma Hayek buyout option. Which, in all truth, I would probably grant in exchange for a similar Jon Hamm clause.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:09 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you're likely to live for 500 years, do you want to commit to spending ~470 married to the same person? The idea of fixed-term marriages becomes almost inevitable in that case.

This came up in Highlander: the Series. The de Valicourts got married again every hundred years or so. Though I'm not sure it was specifically presented as a fixed-term marriage. Three hundred years in, they considered divorce, but Duncan and Methos sorted it all out.

(What? This is totally a valid data point.)
posted by asperity at 6:13 PM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

There is even a controversial Sunni variant on this temporary marriage thing. The Sunni dont have a set time limit. It offers some protections for both parties. This might be good for people who want a sort of 'marriage lite'.

posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:14 PM on September 30, 2011

F.M. Busby had just such a concept in his Rissa Kerguelen series.

The books also had corporations running the government.

Prescient man, he was.
posted by rednikki at 8:25 PM on September 30, 2011

Oddly, this is one of the issues my mother championed, temporary marriages of five, ten or twenty years.

Her position was that even in a "no fault" divorce someone had to initiate the divorce, but in a temporary marriage, letting it lapse is the default. The party who wanted out did not need to make a case, or justify their decision. She thought this would make it easier for women, who may not want to "rock the boat" to get themselves out of marriages they didn't want to be in.

Of course she didn't believe in marriage to begin with, but from her point of view, anything the lowered the barrier to women getting out of marriage was good.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:38 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is one of the kinds of marriage that the Old Brehon laws in Ireland defined. It seems like all the terms of marriage were negotiable under those laws but it was supposedly quite common that either party could leave without penalty on one day per year. My mother claims its Valentines Day but that may just be a ploy for chocolates.

There was also a bizarre law where it was OK for man to hit his wife but if it left a mark she could divorce him and take all the children and livestock with her.
posted by fshgrl at 8:39 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Didn't Margaret Mead say that there should be three stages of marriage: first stage for procreation and raising of children, second stage for ... uh ... pleasure? Profit? I forget ... and third stage for companionship?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 9:41 PM on September 30, 2011

Marriage is changing, but I wonder how much good something like this would do. I'm not against it, but I think it's one of those horse-outta-barn things.

Virtually everyone I know who is my age and younger got married for very pragmatic reasons. Taxes. Health insurance. Federal student aid. Child in common. The couples in question (including myself and my husband) were already in love, committed, entangled financially an in all those mundane day to day ways, and only made it legal because there were compelling outside reasons to do so.

Marriage doesn't change the relationship so much as it changes the way the state views it. And I wonder if it would even have that effect if there was a built in time limit.
posted by Leta at 10:31 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

To Muslim-law experts in the house, while I understand that the option exists in Shia and Sunni flavours, but how is it perceived in different communities? The Wiki piece on the Shia version seems to be saying it is highly controversial within Muslim circles; there doesn't seem to be any sort of consensus on how publicly accepted such marriages are.

So just to anchor the discussion, and I'm asking this less rhetorically and more with curiosity, but how would Nikah mut‘ah be perceived in, say, a reasonably liberal Shia society as urban Iran? On the same vein, how do the conservatives in Iran look at this? Is there a difference in perception?
posted by the cydonian at 11:03 PM on September 30, 2011

Goethe's seven years' marriage: In his work, Die Wahlverwandtschaften, Goethe gives utterance to the idea of a temporary marriage by the mouth of the Count, who advises one of his friends that every marriage should be contracted for the term of five years only. " This number ", he says, " is a beautiful, sacred, odd number, and such a period of time would be sufficient for the married pair to learn to know one another, to bring a few children into the world, to separate, and, what would be most beautiful of all, to come together again ". mentioned here
posted by megob at 1:11 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If this gets implemented in the states, how will it effect immigration laws?
posted by pxe2000 at 4:44 AM on October 1, 2011

In cultures where extramarital sex is taboo (and I mean really taboo), temporary marriage contracts provide a needed outlet.
posted by mygoditsbob at 4:46 AM on October 1, 2011

Sunni ... Shi'a

Oh, lordy: you should see the disputes on Yahoo! Answers, where Sunnis and Shi'as each get aerated about Nikah mut‘ah and Nikah Misyar. Despite (to an outsider view) the very strong similarity of setup, each considers their own system as acceptable and the other's as tantamount to prostitution.
posted by raygirvan at 6:17 PM on October 1, 2011

How about we just quit calling it "marriage?" Government shouldn't be defining marriage anyway. Call it "householding" or something.

And two year term marriages sound like a nucking fightmare to me. Sure the sex would be new every two years, but I would not want to go through the negotiations of a new relationship knowing that it would likely bear no long term benefit.

The kind of relationship my wife and I have is the product of decades of learning to love *one person.* Sure, we argue, but we are damned efficient about it by now. After 24 years, my wife and I have learned where all the landmines are. We've learned the hard way that it's easier to just be kind, to anticipate the others fears and insecurities and express what we want without triggering each others defense mechanisms. We've learned to love each other not just in spite of our weaknesses but because of them too. We don't care who "wins" an argument anymore. We care about protecting and strengthening our mutual investment in each other. That's a self-reinforcing positive spiral.

How the fuck do you do that if you start over every few years? Hell with that. Not for me.

Folks, do the term thing if that suits you. But could everyone just return the "marriage" name to those who still want the old permanent deal? I'm sure y'all could find a cool hipster name for whatever the new thing is. And FWIW, I believe the new hipster household variants should have every civil right that us old frumpy marrieds have.

We'd just like the name back please. Don't even bother to wash it. We'll take care of it. Thanks.
posted by cross_impact at 1:16 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

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