Should You Lease Your Marriage?

Divorce, Relationships

Lease disclosure With the divorce rate around 40%, more people are considering alternatives to traditional marriage, including cohabitation. What about the idea of short-term marriages? Marriage “leasing” solves some problems associated with traditional marriage but raise others.

Marriages that expire after a fixed amount of time

“’Til death do us part” is not just a romantic vow – it’s a legal one. A marriage is a kind of contract, and a divorce is the process of breaking that contract. A lease on marriage is simply another way to think about entering that contract; it would allow couples to test out marriage and see if it is right for them. Of the marriages that end in divorce, 40% end within the first five years, so making that time probationary is a way to see if the couple is in it for the long haul.

In his piece in The Washington Post earlier this month, Paul Rampell suggested that, like an apartment lease, the marriage lease could be renewed at the end of each term of commitment. If the marriage is strong, it could be renewed continuously until one spouse dies. The “wedlease” (as opposed to “wedlock”) would have elements of a prenuptial agreement in it, including a description of the individuals’ property going into the marriage to make terms of any eventual separation clear. He also suggests security deposits, and an option for couples with children: have the lease renew automatically until the child has grown up.

Does ending a leased marriage hurt less than divorce?

A leased marriage has one great advantage over a traditional marriage: couples would be able to separate in a manner according the terms of the lease rather than the terms of their state’s divorce procedure. The dissolution of the union would be much less costly, in terms of money, time, and stress.

But that doesn’t mean that the separation would be as painless as walking away from a car lease. Separation is often difficult and painful, no matter what the marital status of the couple is. And children would feel the effects of their parents splitting either way.

The question is whether contractual short-term marriages solve the problems associated with marriage and divorce. If a couple wants to avoid a messy divorce, they can instead choose to live together, or sign a thorough prenuptial agreement before marriage.

A contract on love

Despite the fact that so many marriages end in divorce, people still want to get married. The question of what marriage really is has been front and center as more states make gay marriage legal. Many gay couples choose marriage over civil union because husbands and wives have rights that people in other kinds of partnerships don’t. While United States v. Windsor took a big step addressing that issue, it didn’t even the playing field completely.

The institution of marriage has been around for a very long time, and it’s unrealistic to view it solely as a legal arrangement. It’s also an important social institution, and to many people, a religious one as well; to them, marriage is a covenant honoring God. For those reasons, the idea of a marriage lease is unappealing to a large group of people.

Pragmatic, not romantic

Leased marriages may not sound very romantic, but they are a pragmatic solution to the problem of high divorce rates. The underlying issue of couples not staying together is likely to be unaffected, though. The one thing wedleases would be sure to affect is the future of the divorce lawyer (though for those who aren’t leasing, they can still come in handy).