I recently posted the text of a contract I now execute with couples who wish for me to perform their wedding ceremonies (here). I put up that post because it took me no time at all to put it up: Just copy and paste. As is, I guess, evident to the world, I don't give much time to blogging any more (not that you all aren't wonderful people, but just because life is short and there is much to do).
Anyway, from some of the comments received (one on the blog and a few through other media), it became clear to me that I needed to elaborate a bit more. In which case I might not have posted the thing to begin with, but that horse is already out of the barn. So, for clarity's sake, please allow me to spell out what I'm shooting for with the contract. I plead with you to understand that I'm leaving for Senegal this week and probably won't interact in the comments at all.
A few years ago I heard Kelly Shackelford mentioning the horrible state of marriage law in Texas. In our state, the marriage contract is the only contract in which one party can break the contract and leave it without penalty or obligation to the other party. Every other contract is enforceable; a marriage contract is not.
That bothered me, but then a germ of an idea came to mind: What if one were to put into place a simple financial contract ALONGSIDE the marriage contract? You couldn't force people to stay married, but you could at least add some incentive perhaps to make them work a little harder at avoiding a divorce.
Also, I've seen marriages break up that made me feel that one of the spouses had been defrauded—and, frankly, that I myself had been defrauded and the church had been defrauded—all the way back to the time of the wedding. Somebody had said things about what he or she believed about marriage that he or she did not truly believe. They say those things because it is cheap to lie and expensive to tell the truth at the time of marriage.
If a couple came to me and said, "We want to get married. We love each other. But when this relationship cools off, we just plan to get a divorce and move on," then I probably wouldn't agree to perform the wedding. That's not the kind of marriage vows I will solemnize. But there's a constant stream of people who really think that going into marriage, but just won't be honest about it. When that happens, a fraud has been perpetrated upon me (not to speak of the defrauded spouse in those occasions when one spouse agrees with me but another does not!).
And so, I decided to put together a business contract to put at least some small teeth in place alongside the impotent marriage contract that our state provides and to make it absolutely clear to everyone that couples whom I marry are making contractual representations to me about the kind of marriage that they are asking me to witness and upon which they want me to ask the Lord's blessing.
Not all the details, of course, but a few things that might have caught your eye:
- The $10,000: Of course, as you read down further, you'll notice that I'm really talking about a $10 wedding. It's the DIVORCE that winds up costing $10,000. Why that much? I'm looking for an amount that will make people stop and think, but that won't necessarily drive most people into abject, life-long poverty. Also, I wanted an amount for which I could reasonably say, "You'd be better off financially to pay for a little marriage counseling."
- "Premarital Consultation" and "Christian Wedding": I wouldn't have drawn up a contract just for the purpose of these two items, but while I'm doing one, I wanted to put these things in there. If for no other reason, these things perhaps protect me a little bit from unintended consequences. I didn't want MYSELF to wind up in court for breach of contract if I executed one of these contracts for someone and then wound up refusing to perform the wedding for other reasons. Probably, I need to make sure that I include in this thing the reasons why I might wind up refusing to perform a wedding.
- Recipient: I don't want people coming back and saying, "Hey, we've been tithing for 10 years. We've long ago paid off that $10,000. We're getting divorced and we're not paying a penny."
- Financing: This is the heart of the contract. I'm setting up every one of these couples with a debt, but no payments are required and no interest will accrue. All they have to pay is the initial $10, and then the rest of it comes on their schedule (if at all). Why $10? I think that it makes it more clear that this is a real contract if at least some amount of money changes hands from the get-go. If it doesn't make it more real for the courts, at least perhaps it does so for the people involved.
- Joint and Several Liability: Legally, I believe this means that I can collect the accelerated debt, if necessary, from both spouses or from either spouse, at my sole discretion. And so, if one deadbeat husband commits adultery and walks away from his spouse for another woman, I don't have to go after her for $10,000. I can, if I wish, just go after him for the total amount.
- Forgiveness of Indebtedness: If the marriage survives "'til death do us part" then the debt goes away.
- Acceleration Clause: If the marriage ends in divorce or annulment, I have the right, if I should choose to do so, to demand immediate payment of any unpaid balance of the $10,000.
- What Would I Do With the Money? Legally, whatever I wanted. It's my money, paid to me for performing the wedding ceremony. That being said, I'd have a lot of options. If I wanted to give it to a wronged spouse, I guess I could do so, couldn't I? If I wanted to put it into trust for minor children caught up in a messy divorce, I guess I could do so, couldn't I?
Look, I'm of no delusional persuasion that taking this action will cause a dramatic drop in the divorce rate in Eastern Collin County. But I'm happy to think that I'm doing SOMETHING. If nothing else, I'm forcing engaged couples to think, in a business sort of way with real money on the line, about the commitment that they're making.