I was listening to the radio recently, and the hot topic of the day was whether or not marriages should have to be renewed every 5 years. Some of the people who called in thought this would be a good idea–if you and your spouse don’t get along after 5 years, just let the clock wind down and–poof!–you’re divorced without having to go through the drama and expense of a formal divorce.
The idea of a temporary marriage isn’t entirely unheard of. A woman’s group in the Republic of the Philippines plans to propose in Congress a measure requiring couples to renew their marriage after 10 years, or else their marriage would be null and void. Islamic law also allows for ‘temporary’ marriage’s–after a predetermined time, and all obligations have been met, the partners can separate from each other.
Clearly, the whole ’til death do us part thing is a Christian notion, a notion that has often been flouted by people who call themselves. Even Moses had to let the Jewish people people divorce each other because their “hearts were hardened.”
For practical purposes, I don’t think allowing marriage to ‘wind down’ and become null and void after 5 years (or 10, or 20) would be a good idea. If the two people acquired property during the marriage or had children then they will still need a court to divide up their property, create a formal child support order, and decide custody if the parties cannot reach an agreement. Thus, allowing a marriage to wind down will incur the same legal expenses and difficulties as a divorce.
The US already has ‘no fault’ divorce laws which were supposed to make divorcing less contentious since now the law allowed the couple to divorce without either side having to be blamed for the dissolution of the marriage. However, I don’t think that ‘no fault’ divorce laws actually worked as intended, as people still have contentious divorces where the parties fight over money and custody of the kids for months or even years after the first person files.
Requiring marriages to be renewed after 5 years will only further weaken the institution of marriage. In an interview with Elle Magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow was asked about the 32 year long marriage of her parents, which only ended when her father passed away in 2002:
“I used to say to my dad, ‘How did you and mom stay married for all this time?’ And he’d say, ‘Two things. Number one: You gotta have the same dreams. One person can’t be daydreaming about walking down the street in Paris, the other person wants to work in a coal mine. You’ve gotta want the same stuff.’
At number two, she laughs. “He said, ‘We never wanted to get divorced at the same time.'”
If only one person is required to not wanted to be married any longer, that person just has to let the clock run out on their marriage–what the other person wants is of no consequence. But if two people are required to want to get divorced at the same time then there is less of a chance that they will both want it at the same time, and in order to avoid a contentious divorce both parties may try harder to work things out.
If marriage is going to be saved legislators need to try to find ways to keep families together, not create laws to make it easier for a family to break up.