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Marriage Contracts, Ultimatums, and Divorce

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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).

  1. 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...
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Counseling, either with a counselor, pastor at a church, or a mediator.
  5. 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:

  1. Take some or all of the steps above before seeking a contract.
  2. Be prepared to answer difficult questions your spouse may have regarding the contract.
  3. List some benefits in it for the spouse if they agree to the contract.
  4. Decide whether it should be legal or personal.
  5. Risk Assessment- make sure the benefits outweigh the risks.

Suggested Reading


Brad on February 25, 2019:


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I don't know if today you are still active with the ideas you presented in this article. But, I just wrote article on a proposal for a solution to the marriage tax status.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on January 12, 2012:

Larry~ For health reasons, so many of us sabotage each other in relationships. My husband quit smoking because we had a baby and she kept getting resipratory infections until he quit. I would hope that the marriage, and husband, mean enough for the wife to quit but that doesn't sound like it's going to happen. Maybe a doctor should explain to her about her husband like the Dr explained to my husband that he needed to quit for our baby.

If you care about someone you would want them to be healthy especially if they are trying to be. So again, I question the marriage, but they must find something that works for them, between them. He could also find ways to help her quit and be on her team. They are obviously not on the same page. There are ways to assist people to quit. My husband used Chantix and has quit for over 3 yrs now. In my book, health first, and hopefully the person's partner can support them, otherwise why are they married?

Larry Fields from Northern California on January 11, 2012:

A fellow, who I used to hike with, is diabetic. I admire his attitude towards his health problem. He decided to follow a health-oriented lifestyle, which included a lot of daily exercise.

Problem: His wife of many years is a heavy smoker, and he feels sick whenever he walks in the front door. I'm guessing that her smoking was not a big issue when they were both young.

If they were wealthy, they could buy two neighboring small houses, and they could enjoy each other's company in the smoke-free environment. And when she has the Tobacco Jones on a rainy Winter day, or on a hot Summer day, she could retreat to the comfort her house, and light up.

He wants to be healthy. I'm guessing that she doesn't feel strong enough to conquer her addiction. She probably interprets his strong feelings on the subject as a personal rejection, and that added emotional burden would make quitting even more difficult.

From my outsider's perspective, this looks like a lose-lose situation. Their situation looks like a prime candidate for one of the three extreme measures (short of murder) that you discussed.

If they negotiated a 'post-nup' with professional assistance, it's possible that she could get a few items on her side of the balance sheet, as a quid pro quo for the physical torment that goes along with kicking a powerful addiction.

What do you think?

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 25, 2010:

dashingscorpio~ your last paragaph is interesting. I think how much work necessary is indicative of how long the relationship has been ignoring problems brewing. I wish everyone believed in the labor of love and selflessness for their loved one. Often, we keep score and don't give more than necessary

dashingscorpio from Chicago on August 24, 2010:

Life is a personal journey and most of us our flying by the seat of our pants. :-)

Your writing is insightful and thought provoking.

You are absolutely correct if (one spouse) is happy they are not likely to see the need for change which can cause even more frustration for the unhappy person.

However if I'm in love with someone who needs to be reassured, understood, held, or just made to feel appreciated then that is exactly what I will do. When someone truly loves you they want you to be happy too.

There are many who subscribe to the belief that relationships require a lot of "work". My take is slightly different. I believe the "real work" is in selecting the right mate. Once you're in a "healthy relationship" what some may consider to be work, actually becomes "a labor of love". The wording may be subtle but there is a major difference in the mindset.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 24, 2010:

dashingscorpio~ I love the last line in your comment. Absolutely true! I have come across more men in relationships who do not believe on working on or maintaining a marriage. THey usually have the mentality, it either works or it doesn't. I'm speaking from my own experience and what my female friends all say too. Also, it gets tricky when one spouse is happy and the other isn't- the motivation for the happy one to change is not there. It's all tricky I guess.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It added a lot to this discussion. I completely agree with taking a partner for granted too.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on August 23, 2010:

I don't think you can demand or negotiate love and affection. (These things are given freely.)

You can't manufacture chemistry. (It's either there or it's not.)

One of the problems with making a life-time commitment to someone is everyone changes over time. What you desire and want today may not be what you want 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Too many people view marriage as the event which allows them to "relax". They stop doing many of things that caused their partner to fall in love. It's not unusual to hear someoneone say, "He/She is not the same person I fell in love with."

In any relationship we're either growing together or growing apart. Nurturing or neglecting.

Once we change, our circumstances change.

The last thing you want to do is take your partner for granted or put your relationship on (auto-pilot).

It's very important to stay physically connected and emotionally invested.

"It's easier to maintain a fire than it is to reignite a spark!"

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 20, 2010:

tmwnp~ good to see you- wrote you an email too. Great point about the 3-way contract beteen God too. Excellent point!! ok I already established that, but I overlooked that in my hub or even when writing my hub. And the pregnant example id hilarious. As usual, I can't decide if you're holier than funny or funnier than holy. take care...

TheManWithNoPants from Tucson, Az. on August 20, 2010:

There is a three way contract between the couple and God. To cherish, love, honor, and grrrrrrr.... obey, till death do us part so help me God. A contract outside of this one voids your contract with the Lord. I don't mean to jump to my holy side, but it is what it is. Marriage is a commitment, not a kinda sorta commitment. To me it's a case of either your pregnant or not pregnant. You can't be a little pregnant.

Good hub Laura!

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 19, 2010:

"foggyfrog" Yes! Exactly- to everything you said. marriage itself is a contract. Basically they are voiding a contract by summoning up another one after being married. Divorced or married- the in between stuff doesn't make sense to me either. Contracts kill trust in marriages. Thanks for the comment!

Thanks "daytripper"!

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 19, 2010:

"TH"~ Yeah I can't believe people want their cake and eat it too when marriage is all about compromise, like knowing when you marry, you will be/should be giving up the right to have lovers on the side. Sadly, this true story of the guy ho was shot was pretty smart by most definitions- had a great job with the government, but it's those egocentric people who think they can manipulate their way around the job that think they can do it in their relationships as well. Also, many mistresses accept the man staying with the wife so why shouldn't he think his wife would do him the same honor and accept his girlfriend- still very stupid move though. THanks for adding your comment to the discussion Tom.

TheDayTripper from Maryport, Cumbria on August 18, 2010:

I love constant smirks......and Dylan x

foggyfrog from Northern California on August 18, 2010:

Interesting hub! I had no idea of this trend and agree that it's kinda scary. I really don't see a contract being a helpful, good thing between two people. You need to have some basic agreement on important things and then not be together if you can't agree. Everyone changes and marriage is a chance to expand your ability to grow and change, too. Marriage itself is a contract, usually to love and honor the other why are these other things needed?!?

tom hellert from home on August 18, 2010:


well I am glad I can't say i have any issues like those guys - In fact *hehe* I have been recently attacked- subtly lately so I am not complaining as for the dolt who thought his wife might let him have a girl on the side - he had one to manty holes in his head also....

How dumb was that guy.... fascinating hub...


L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 17, 2010:

martie~ Thanks for the comment. You are so right when you say these people know what love for self is but not otherwise. All this makes me wonder why people get married or why they marry the people they do. We (U.S) has such a high divorce rate, and now these marriage contracts are becoming more common, have we forgotten what marriage is? I'm just so surprised how often I am hearing about this now. Ridiculous!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on August 17, 2010:

Izette, this is quite an interesting hub. For me it is obvious that a man/woman who wants his/her personal will enforces on his/her ‘better half’ even without a legal contract do not know what love is (excluding love for self). They want their bread buttered on both sides and really don’t deserve to be loved and tolerated. They show ultimate arrogance, ignorance and selfishness! Great hub, voted UP.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on August 17, 2010:

Christoph~ without going into too much detail, the first scenario also includes the husband wanting wife to try other sexual things- he thought she would after they married (2 yrs), but she hasn't. I don't know how often they are having sex though, but the contract still seems wacky. Kind of takes the fun out of having sex with a guy like that.

I'm old fashioned too and this all seems silly. Also, I hate the idea of separations. Either you're divorced or not.

Robwrite~ some people think it will possibly lower the divorce rate because it will force people to fix and work on things rather than getting a divorce for the all-popular "Unreconcilable Differences". I don't agree with the idea of contracts in marriage tough.

Rob from Oviedo, FL on August 17, 2010:

This stuff would have seemed farcical years ago. Like a Tracy & Hepburn comedy. I'm sad that it's so common and accepted these days.

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on August 17, 2010:

I'm sure my ex wishes we had a prenup. Ha! Okay, here's how I see your 4 case studies. #1: Not enough info. Maybe he's right, maybe wrong. I'd have to know what the frequency was before I could decide he needed more; #2: He is wrong; #3: Too damn bad for her; #4: Too damn bad for him.

Actually, I know it's common now, but I never could see all this contract business in marriages. I guess I'm just old fashioned. Since it is so prevalent now, you offer some really great advice and guidelines. Matrimony lawyers should make all their clients read this!

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