Marriage Contracts, Ultimatums, and Divorce
Contracts? In Marriage? A Few Examples
Perhaps you've heard of a prenuptial agreement- a contract agreed upon prior to marriage that states one or both spouses' assets are protected should there be a divorce between them in the future. Without a prenuptial, all marriages are covered under the divorce law, which decides, by state laws, how resources will be allocated. Prenuptial contracts are still debatable- for some it's simply "insurance", for others it's an insult.
How would you feel about a contract arranged after you were married? It doesn't seem to make as much sense. You dated the person, got to know them, talked about the important stuff, agreed or compromised (right?), then got married. So why is a post marriage contract necessary? People are aware of the high divorce rate and the cost to exit a marriage so why end a marriage based on one disturbing or unmet expectation- all a spouse may want is to be sure the issue doesn't continue for years down the road. Are they right or wrong.
Let me give you examples. Just this last year I knew 4 couples who were involved with specific contracts in their marriage- contracts drawn up by lawyers or personal ones (between the couple only- no legal source).
- The first couple, the man was unhappy with the amount of sex him and his wife were having after they got married- he assumed since sex was consistent before marriage, it would be after as well. We all know he was wrong. He typed up a personal contract for his wife to have sex a certain number of times per month or else...
- The second couple got married and bought property together, but the husband feels since he paid for all of it, he wants his lawyer to draw up a legal contract for them to stay married (maybe), but for the wife to sign over her rights to the property. She did not have money to help buy the property because she had left her job when they married so she could travel with him for his job.
- The next scenario is a couple who, throughout their marriage, spent about half the year apart because the husband was a truck driver. They were happily married all those years until he retired, now she wants a legal contract between them stating he resides 6 months of the year in their second home across the country.
- And finally the fourth example is of one where the husband wanted to make sure his wife loses the weight she gained from having a baby, within 1 year, so he offered her a personal contract stating such and wants her to sign it or divorce is a possibility- the ultimate ultimatum.
There are other types of contracts such as to remain childless in the marriage, issues concerning children born to the married couple, spouse's business, medical issues/responsibility, children's religion, or ending the marriage after a certain time. Almost any aspect within a marriage could be game for a contracted arrangement.
Contracts Vs. Expectations
Let's be honest, how many people have or had unmet expectations after getting married? OK, that's probably 100% nodding in enthusiastic agreement. No one has a good hair day everyday. But seriously, contracts post marriage are ultimatums, possibly threats, to change/control someone or reverse expectations. No one should feel threatened in a marriage. The nature of the contract and how the recipient (spouse) feels about it or whether it's been discussed prior are crucial.
Usually marriage naturally assumes a contract between two people to love, honor, and cherish...through sickness and in health, but people walk into a marriage with their own list of expectations- some they may have been unaware of before getting married. We don't get to practice marriages, although with the high divorce rate, you'd think we do.
The problem with contracts is they are usually rooted from the notion nothing will change or everything will change during marriage or there will not be low periods lasting years perhaps. This isn't reality and if there was a big concern for one spouse in particular areas, they should have discussed it prior to marriage. I once heard a joke appropriate on this topic; A man marries a woman expecting she will not change and a woman marries a man expecting he will change.
Marriage Contracts Can Backfire
Personally, my first knowledge of a contract within marriage came when I was 10yrs old. My dad had cheated on my mom and wanted a contract to remain married, but still have his girlfriend. My mom said no, but my dad told her to give it a few days. Within that few days a friend of my dad's at work was killed by his wife. Apparently my dad got the idea from him because he did the same thing to his wife- offered a contract to allow a girlfriend- except she shot her husband, went to jail, and probably thought it was all worth it. My mom found out about this and told my dad "Aren't you glad I simply said no?"
Contracts can bring new issues into the marriage such as mistrust, anger, resentment, revenge, betrayal, confusion, doubt, and selfishness. It's not uncommon for one partner to be presented with a contract and in return, file for divorce. Anyone deciding on a contract is taking a big risk.
Alternatives to Contracts
There are some ways to avoid contracts within a marriage: A contract is basically a step away from divorce, like separation.
- Verbalize your needs, wants, and expectations. Ideally this should be discussed and decided before marrying, but if that's too late, talk about the issue so at least the contract isn't coming from left field.
- Don't have a laundry list of items you want changed in the marriage and/or your spouse. Sadly, if you have a list, you probably shouldn't be married. If you concentrate on one thing in particular, it is easier to address and change.
- Each spouse make a list of what you want in a husband or wife- your expectations. This list is not to enforce your expectations on the other person, but just available to let them know what you expect out of marriage.
- Counseling, either with a counselor, pastor at a church, or a mediator.
- Remember, a problem within a relationship is usually caused by both spouses. Perhaps you can figure out what your percentage of the blame is and fix that.
Sometimes a contract can't be avoided:
- Take some or all of the steps above before seeking a contract.
- Be prepared to answer difficult questions your spouse may have regarding the contract.
- List some benefits in it for the spouse if they agree to the contract.
- Decide whether it should be legal or personal.
- Risk Assessment- make sure the benefits outweigh the risks.
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