Would Having An “End Date” Help A Marriage?

The New York Times recently ran an article that explored the concept of  renewable marriage contracts, meaning a marriage would “expire” after 5 years or 20 years or whatever the term would be and at the end of the term the couple was free to walk away or renew their marriage.  The gist of the article is that marriage is changing: people are getting married later in life and many are choosing not to marry at all; the divorce rate is high, and some are wondering whether marriage is becoming obsolete or, at least undergoing an overhaul.


The article talks about the idea of a marriage contract with an expiration date as merely acknowledging the truth that many marriages just don’t work.   Dr. Virginia Rutter of Framingham University in Massachusetts believes in “eliminating the fantasy of marriage.”


So it got me to thinking whether I would have been more inclined to marry one (or some) of my exes, if I had to do it for only 5 years…maybe 10.  I kinda think so.  The main reason I never married any of the guys who wanted to marry me is that it didn’t really feel like forever to me.  But if it was only going to be for a few years, well, that might have been a little more do-able.


So, I ask my married/divorced/widowed readers for their thoughts on this.  How would your marriage have been impacted if you entered it not with the ’til death do us part assumption, but with an expiration date, let’s say 15 years?


And to the spinsters like me, what are your thoughts?  Would a marriage contract with term limits make getting married easier, harder, or wouldn’t matter?





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20 Responses to Would Having An “End Date” Help A Marriage?

  1. Lorelai says:

    I love this idea! Marriage is already a contract, yes. However, I really like the concept of specifying a particular amount of years (5, 10, whatever) rather than a horribly ambiguous “til death do us part”. It isn’t romantic, but I think that’s exactly what could actually help steer more people in the right direction when hunting for a marriage partner. If you’re trying to hammer out a length of time, along with all the gritty details, at the beginning of the marriage, it brings up a great deal of information in regard to your partner, and their beliefs/ reactions. More people would be inclined to take the marriage truly seriously if they think about the end at the beginning.

    • Rachel says:

      Hi there!
      I just wanted to say that I completely agree with you. I think that marriage contracts should have an end date. I think that it would encourage partners to put more work into their relationships throughout the years.. I mean I would work harder at my relationship if we had to reevaluate it in 5 years. And I think that its romantic! If after the 5 years (or whatever length it is) you choose to stay with your partner, thats real love. And if you choose not to be with your partner you tried your best and you can leave with no divorce hassle or problems that way. Thanks for voicing your opinion! Nice to know people agree with me!

  2. Madeline says:

    I am for this.
    1. If you hash out a contract before you get married, that could be a real eye-opener and help prevent some of those doomed-from-the-start marriages. C’mon, we all know of at least one…
    2. If there are kids, this could help make the end of their parent’s marriage a lot more amicable and stress-free. There would be a plan, and the kids would presumably grow up knowing about the plan. My parents divorced when I was a teenager/young adult. It was the uncertainty about the future that made the divorce so stressful.
    3. Let’s say the contract expires, and the couple stays together. That’s another kind of vow-renewal to celebrate.
    4. So having a contract with an expiration would be an option. If a couple wanted to make a go of it ’til death does them part, that’s up to them. Those kinds of marriages could still exist, it’s not an all-or-nothing deal.
    5. I have to wonder if having a contract to renegotiate every 5, 10 or 15 years wouldn’t cause some people to examine their marriages and get a little counseling every time the contract comes up. Like marriage tune up. Sounds like an opportunity to make a marriage better or walk away before it becomes bitter.

  3. Georgia says:

    My husband and I actually do have a contract heh, it ends in 7 years, we have been married 6 years but began it when we moved in together. Ours was a 14 year contract that we made ourselves. It hasn’t bothered either one of us. Basically having and marriage contract that you can renew but also not if you choose, isnt saying that you expect your marriage to end, til death do us part isn’t even really done anymore anyway, people get divorced all the time. If in 7 years we decide to stay together, then we stay together, if not we divorce. And as for adding kids into the equation, how many couples do we all know that raise their children in a divorced situation anyway? What would be the difference other than at the end of the contract depending how it was worded they couple walks away with a settlement or what they came into the marriage with, only without all of the legal litigation that clogs our court system up anyway. I am all for marriage contracts.

  4. Pingback: Suggestion Saturday: October 20, 2012 | On The Other Hand

  5. Devon says:

    I think putting an expiration date on a ‘marriage contract’ is basically saying that the marriage isn’t going to last. So why get married at all? Marriages are failing because people are too selfish or don’t pick the right husband/wife. Marriage is taken too lightly. If you want to avoid all that (and save money, weddings aren’t cheap) then don’t get married. Plenty of people don’t get married and still live happily ever after.

  6. Ted says:

    My wife and I got married 35 years ago. After 10 years of marriage due to my wifes partners in business shady practices we were to lose all our assets.So she transferred everything to me and we got quitely divorced. We have never told family. After 3 years passed I said, lets get married in court and she said “what for” . Neither of us are religious . We had or first two anniversary dinners and then dropped the practice when she said on the third impending anniversary she would rather rent a hotel room with me! She is a delightful person. Moral of the story – no contract will keep you together .

  7. Jana says:

    Marriage contracts would be good for those over 40 who aren’t considering having children. For myself, I don’t need a man to support me financially. I need companionship, emotional support and someone to do stuff with. If those needs aren’t being met, then I could totally see having a contract would be beneficial. The expectations of both sides would be upfront. If you’re not living up to your expectations, the other party has “backup”.

  8. Cheri says:

    I think some things can be cut and dry with a contract, but I really don’t think a marriage contract could work that smoothly. You’d still have strong emotions you’d have to deal with, the assets to divide up and I don’t think it would really be fair to any children involved. As far as the celebrities that do vow renewals every year…I see that as a sign of a shaky marriage that needs reaffirmed on a yearly basis. Seal and Heidi Klum, anyone?

    Personally, after having been married for 7 years and now divorced for over 4, I know I am much happier just being in a committed long-term relationship where everything is kept separate (homes, finances, etc.). There is no pressure with it having to work out or having to put up with unacceptable behavior for the sake of not having to go through a bitter divorce where you lose half your stuff and your life is turned upside down. We love and respect each other dearly and don’t see ourselves without each other, but it sure is nice knowing that if that day ever comes, we can just sit down and say…we had a good run, but I’m going to need you to get your box of stuff and leave now. Goodbye and good luck! Also, having been married and seeing that it’s definitely not the fairytale most of us grew up hoping, dreaming or believing it would be, contract or no, I’m not interested in any repeat performances of marriage.

  9. Lydia says:

    What an interesting concept. I don’t know what I think about it yet to be honest.

    I do wonder, though, how it would affect couples going through a rough patch just as their contract expires. Would it encourage spouses to walk away? Would they be more willing to give it another shot if they knew they were only committing for X more years?

  10. Eleanore says:

    This comment, though under my name, is actually from a loyal reader of and contributor to this blog. She sent it to me because she was having difficulty posting it. Here’s Nissa’s comment:

    I really like the idea. It would not have impacted my marriage, as I adored the man I married and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. It would have affected my divorce. When my ex decided he didn’t want me anymore, his refusal to comply with any part of the divorce process caused the process to drag out over 4 years (for a divorce not involving kids). This would have easily avoided by hammering out the details via prenup or contract. As I understand it, the contract lays out what will occur at the termination of the contract. Surely this would be less contentious, more fair when you are on good terms, rather than bad terms. And if you can’t agree, well, it’s a good hint that you shouldn’t get married anyway.

    In reality, the marriage itself is a legal contract, whether the couple knows it or not. A marriage contract would make getting married a little more difficult, but would be well worth it for both spouse and the children. Many people specifically marry to provide legal protections for the children they expect to have. Since that is the case, many of us would be better served by a legal contract that more accurately reflects our needs and wants, instead of the default contract.

    Additionally, I believe that marriage is still around because it is a social contract as well. The reason for a ring on the finger and a title is so that other people immediately know the (stated, if not actual) level of commitment. After all, if no one knows your stated level of commitment, there is no social pressure to conform to that. This is socially expedient, so that time is not wasted in determining how to treat that person. Also, when kids are involved, they do better when parents do the right thing. Most people believe that parents won’t do the right thing unless the legal construct of marriage forces them to do that, which keeps the social structure more stable. I don’t personally believe that, but I see many people who do. Therefore many people push marriage as a creator of stability.

    I truly believe we would all be best served by honoring one another without coercion or oppression. Love, respect, honor, commitment and coparenting can all exist inside or outside of marriage. And let’s not pretend that getting married creates those things. However, if we all strive to do those things, the possibility of great relationships is within our grasp.

    • Bill says:

      I agree with Nissa 100%.

      I am divorced and in a committed relationship with a great woman.

      There is absolutely no reason to get married. All of the advantages of marriage can be attained in other ways. You can legally protect your children and declare them yours in court. Child support, child custody, and child legitimization can be easily declared and approved by the court. Health insurance is available to “domestic partners.” Wills, and life insurance offer protection in case of emergency.

      The courts view marriage as a contract. Most people have no idea the risk that they are putting themselves at when they get marrired, especially if one spouse doesnt work, and the marriage lasts for 10+ years and you have children.

      If I had known what I know today I would have never gotten married.

  11. Janine says:

    Well, I guess we should ask Tom and Katie about this one! Great comments from Angie. I’ve long believe the majority of people aren’t cut out to commit for a lifetime, and personally I could NEVER stand there in all seriousness and say “til death do us part” without exploding into laughter. So I didn’t.
    Renewing vows has been popular among celebs for some time now, and I think this idea does, as Angie suggests, have some psychological value. It would force people to think about this commitment rather than just cruising along complacently with eyes closed. Most people don’t want to face the music if something’s rotten in their relationship – it’s all too hard, and many years get wasted mired down in resentment and abuse. So yes, why not? Move with the times.

  12. Michael Ann says:

    Horrible idea. What we really need to think about is the children. Children are put through Hell when families split up. Marriage isn’t just about whether we are happy as a couple, it’s about creating a family unit.

    • Stephanie says:

      If you are not happy in your marriage, how healthy is it for your children really. Wouldn’t they be happier with parents that are happier seperate, then their parents that have become so unhappy together? Unfortunately, some people are not meant to be married, there are times when people can’t work through problems (which are in every marriage). Sometimes you don’t figure out that you aren’t meant to be until later. If you are truly unhappy and can’t work out your problems, don’t stay together just for the kids… You may do more damage to them staying together instead of seperating.

  13. kk says:

    It’s so funny I should see this today. I’ve been cheering you along each time you write and today was no different except it’s a bit surreal because those were my thoughts this afternoon as I was hanging out with a guy friend of mine who is proposing marriage. If it was for a time, I’d totally do it, but for forever??? That’s why at 35 I’m still delightfully single.

  14. Georgina Esposito says:

    I hope it never happens. Much to easy to abuse such contracts for many reasons.

  15. Lynne T. says:

    It’s so funny that you should write about this. 30 years ago when I was a High School senior, I used to spend time chatting with one of the male teachers while he was on hall duty. One of the things we talked about was the fact that you should have a contract such as this and we had said it should be renewable every 5 years.

  16. Kelly says:

    Interesting idea, but I have to say…why should marriage exist if this is what it comes down to – a renewable contract? I think probably the splitting of the finances would still be just as contentious, contract or no, as well as child custody. I don’t think this would take away any feelings of hurt or anger, even though it’s convenient…

  17. angie says:

    I am divorced and have LONG been in favor of the idea of a marriage contract with an expiration date, for two reasons. First, if you made a mistake (like I did!) and want out, it would be cheaper and easier. Second, because there is an expiration date, the people will be more likely to do things to keep the relationship alive and fresh, instead of getting lazy and assuming the partner is stuck with them. Too often once the honeymoon period is over husbands and wives quit trying. Theyre married. Why bother. That wouldn’t be the case anymore.

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