Paul Rampell: Solving the divorce epidemic


Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.

We all know that marriages are as likely as not to end in divorce, yet this institution does not adapt. Indeed, most people want it to spread to gay couples.

Is there no effort to improve the legal structure of marriage itself, when it shows itself to be deficient?

Marriage is a legal partnership that lasts a lifetime, one lifetime to be exact, the life of the first of the spouses to die. Isn’t that a long time for a partnership, any partnership? People change, circumstances change, all sorts of things change, and the compatibility of any two people over decades may decline with these changes to the point of extinction.

In real estate, one may own a life estate in a piece of property. This is comparable to the term of a marriage – a lifetime. Also in real estate, one may hold possession of property for shorter terms through a lease. Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a wedlease?

Here’s how a marital lease can work. Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years –- one year, five years, ten years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease can be renewed at the end of the term, and renewed several times, and end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But, if the relationship is bad, the couple can go separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

A marital lease can describe the property of the spouses in detail, so separate ownership is clear. If the couple wishes to buy something together, or share ownership, they can keep a schedule of these items and decide as they go along how these will be disposed of in the event either dies or they do not renew their lease. Landlords and tenants make clear their separate property and its disposition at the end of property leases and these contracts can work quite well.

If the couple has a child, then their lease ought to continue until the child reaches the age of majority. On the other hand, relationships change with family additions and an extended term may not be feasible. Anyway, when we consider the number of children born out of wedlock these days, would it not be better for their parents to at least commit to a wedlease, even if it doesn’t last a lifetime?

A wedlease may imitate a real estate lease with the use of security deposits. Each spouse can deposit a sum of money with an independent third party, a referee, to insure compliance with the wedlease. A further step could be taken to authorize the referee to arbitrate disputes between the spouses.

We have premarital and postnuptial contracts already. The marital lease is similar, except that it addresses the reality that the marital relationship between two people often does not last a lifetime.

At a certain college, there were sidewalks connecting buildings that formed a square around a courtyard. Students did not use them because it was faster to walk diagonally through the grass.

Instead of fighting the preferred pathways of the students, with signs saying “Keep Off the Grass,” or by building fences or barriers, the college moved the sidewalks to make them diagonal. Why don’t we make the structure of marriage more congruent to our behavior?

Paul Rampell is a Palm Beach attorney who earned his law degree at the University of Florida.

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