General Question

walterallenhaxton's avatar

Can you file a marriage contract that you write yourselves and have it respected by society as a real marriage?

Asked by walterallenhaxton (886 points ) May 31st, 2010

I don’t want a contract written with clauses in it that are somebody else’s ideas about how my relationship is to be.

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37 Answers

Nullo's avatar

It is not unheard-of for couples to write their own marriage vows. Since you are pursuing the secular knock-off of the same thing, I don’t see why there would be any extra social strain.

Might not sit well with the bureaucrats, though.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

I do wonder if it would be recognized for legal purposes. If you file it first before you sign an official one would it have any legal standing if that one was written wrong.

Nullo's avatar

@walterallenhaxton I thought that the legal standing only required a marriage certificate. O_o
It’s this kind of thing that makes me wish that marriage were still solely an ecclesiastic affair.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

You still have to get a marriage license or certificate (in the US). You can write a prenuptual agreement that is recognised as a binding contract, but should be done by a lawyer. You can basically make whatever vows you want, but the state might not recognize them.

lilikoi's avatar

I am no lawyer, but I believe you can do this. It was my understanding – although I could be wrong – that a marriage license was a kind of ‘cookie cutter’ contract. I see marriage as a contract and I don’t see why creating your own contract wouldn’t be legal (obviously providing that the contract does not violate applicable laws). The only thing is that institutions (like hospitals) know how to deal with standard marriage licenses whereas people might want/need to take a closer look at a ‘custom job’ to understand what the contract says.

perspicacious's avatar

You can write your own vows. Where do you think you are going to “file” this hypothetical contract? You have to get the license and have a credentialed person certify you and your spouse-to-be as married. It’s not complicated.

Spouses or spouses to be may enter into a marriage contract which, if done prior to marriage, is actually an antenuptial contract. If done after marriage it is a marriage contract. These contracts have to do with property held by each spouse prior to marriage as well as property acquired during marriage. They are not a contract to marry nor a contract as to the terms of a marriage.

This is an opinion, not legal advice.

susanc's avatar

The state doesn’t have any interest is what you promise each other. They have an interest in your property. If you get married before an officiant (priest, pastor, judge, etc), that person files a certificate with the state. Now you can be taxed as a couple. If you don’t have any document filed with the state, you’re not legally married. This doesn’t bother any branch of the government. They don’t care.

perspicacious's avatar

@susanc In your scenario the couple does not have certain advantages offered married couples. In this sense, the government does care. Careful planning and having certain legal documents can help people get around some of it (such as POAs).

marinelife's avatar

No. Marriage confers certain legal rights and privileges. Your contract does not overrule the law of the land.

JLeslie's avatar

Respected by society I think if you present yourselves as married, society will accept it. No one is going to ask to see your marriage contract. No different than if people are married in the church, but don’t have a civil marriage. The Civil mariage is what the government cares about for taxation, legal rights, privilages, disadvantages and advantages of being legally married. In America we mush the two together, allowing clergy to officiate civil marriage, which I think is a mistake. If you draw up a contract I think it will hold up, but I doubt it would be recognized as a “marriage” by the law/state. This is the very thing gay people are fighting for, to be recognized.

If it is important to you to be married in the eyes of the law, but do not agree with all of the legal obligations the civil marriage contract binds you to, you could do a pre-nup possibly?

lynfromnm's avatar

Many couples write their own vows. You can marry in a hot air balloon, a cathedral or a courthouse. The only requirements are that you get a license and have it signed by a person who has the authority to do so – magistrate, pastor, notary etc. and witnessed as required by the laws of your state. That individual files the license with the state and you are provided with a certificate. You are allowed to file taxes separately, have separate bank accounts, even separate residences if you choose. You can specify what each party’s responsibilities and privileges are. If you don’t wish to have your property evenly divided you can specify that as well. Just be sure everything is in writing, signed and witnessed. Otherwise the state will assume an equal division of property (barring other exceptions such as criminal convictions). Do it your way, live it your way.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@marinelife The rule of the land has nothing to do with my life. I wish for it to remain so. I can make a verbal contract and keep to it for the rest of my life. What I want to do is make a contract that legally defends me from the so called law of the land and when they are in dispute requires a trial for a settlement to be made. Not just simply fiat law giving me orders about how I am to live. Certainly I would need a license for marriage to be recognized. I just would want my contract to be the one I live by and to keep the meddlers away. I know that they will cause trouble. I just want to have my defenses in place and as strong as possible. I hate hate and switch.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@JLeslie That sounds like an answer. It makes a lot of sense to me. I am not all that concerned about property except that I be allowed to live in my house until I die. Who owns it after that is important to my survivors and I would want them to get it. Not the state or the banks.

Val123's avatar

Walter! What are you up to??????

JLeslie's avatar

@walterallenhaxton So all you need to do is write a will regarding your property. The promise/agreement/committment you make between you and your SO is between the two of you, if you call it marriage, to me it is a marriage. Look, if I meet a married couple from some small remote country who’s marriage is not recognized legally by the United States, I don’t consider them less married.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@walterallenhaxton
Get a good lawyer to write up a will and pre-nups for you. If you want your own “defenses” to override the fiat law, you may have to move to another state or country.

AstroChuck's avatar

@Nullo- “It’s this kind of thing that makes me wish that marriage were still solely an ecclesiastic affair.”

Still? Marriage has never been solely an ecclesiastical in the US. It was purposely established to be a civil union under laws governed by the state, and not any religious organization.

susanc's avatar

@perspicacious: wrong. The state recognizes as married any couple whose marriage certificate has been filed by a certified officiant. The rights and privileges of marriage as defined by the state then apply. Issues of inheritance are addressed by the writing of wills if the standard line of inheritance to surviving spouse aren’t what’s wanted.

jca's avatar

to try to answer your question as you asked it “to have it respected by society as a real marriage” – i think that your friends may respect it as a real marriage, they will know or see that you are committed to the person you are with. however the public, like strangers, may not (and i would think probably will not) respect it as a real marriage because i think that in general, people consider the traditional, legal marriage to be a marriage. that is not saying that you cannot conduct your relationship in any way you please, as long as you don’t engage in domestic violence (because then the law steps in).

for example, if you live with someone, you are not married, period. you can live with them till the day you die but it is not a marriage. you can be committed to them love-wise, faithful, whatever makes you happy but it is not a marriage. as far as property, you can write a will that leaves things to them.

AstroChuck's avatar

Edit: ...ecclesiastical affair

Val123's avatar

@jca, and in response to the literal question of having “Society respect it as a real marriage,” if Walter introduces (WHAT IS HER NAME, WALTER??!!) as his “wife” to strangers, there is no way in the world they are going to know that they weren’t “legally” married, unless he broadcasts it. Just like no one in the world would know that my oldest daughter is “adopted” unless I tell them.
As for family, etc. if they’ve been together for a long time, acting as married people, the term “Wife” and “Husband” tend to come easily. Same with “Mom,” even if the mother isn’t the biological mother, but takes care of the child exactly as if she were.

My biggest concern would be the potential legal issues involved by not having it set down legally. Further, I really don’t see the problem with having it set down legally. You can have whatever kind of marriage you want, as long as it doesn’t break Civil laws, such as bigamy. Other than that, you can have an open marriage, you can have a marriage but live in different states, whatever you want to do. You don’t have to have any special clauses written down, other than what you want.

I guess the question confuses me a little. Why would there be any issue with society accepting your chosen as your “wife”? Unless there’s something you didn’t specify in your question….

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@jca I find the Boyfriend/Girlfriend relationship worthless. When there is family and social pressure on it it dies. That is no good for anyone. People need emotional and economic security. I would also put in my golden rule of marriage. “No sex outside of marriage ever” That includes before marriage for the partners. It breaks the emotional security of the marriage and causes it to fail as a marriage. People might still live together and have sex but I would not consider them married anymore. It is far easier to keep a contract over a long period of time than it is to keep a promise. It also does not require the other persons consent if you do not want to change your behavior before the time to renew the contract comes up. I would put a clause for that in there too. People do change.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Having been married once and then a partner in several longterm live-in relationships, I can tell people there is a difference in how people treat the couple and since I don’t see that changing before I’m dead then I’d choose legal recognized marriage again. I believe people are more patient and talk to each other with greater respect when they are legally bound, it’s like a heavier pledge on them to honor whereas “shaking up” invites people to spout off hurtfully whenever they please. Just my observations though.

susanc's avatar

edit: any interest in….

YARNLADY's avatar

A contract of any kind is only good as long as the parties agree to keep it. As soon as one party changes their mind, the contract is no longer subject to the terms.

The only protection that is afforded by any contract, is up to the courts. Just having a contract does not provide any protection at all.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@YARNLADY In my town courts do not enforce judgments in rental cases. I would trust them to enforce nothing. I enforce my own contracts by doing my side of them no matter what the other party does. Of course they can stop me by leaving or forcing me to stop. I do not like half doing any job. As far as I can tell a marriage contract defines a job. A very special one but one that a person does because he has agreed to do it.
I have found that it is not all about the pay. It is about doing the job and doing it right.

perspicacious's avatar

@susanc Not sure what you think is wrong. My comments are right on as far as the states in which I am familiar with domestic law as well as the common law. You may have missed my point that if unmarried people attempt to exercise certain rights of a married couple, they will be barred (this is where I said the government cares if they are legally married or not). I actually practice in a common-law-marriage state so proving marriage without a legal certificate of marriage is also within my experience.

YARNLADY's avatar

@walterallenhaxton The purpose of the court is to make a judegment, not to enforce it. The enforcement comes from an entirely different source.

perspicacious's avatar

@YARNLADY What do you think that source might me? The courts do enforce judgments.

YARNLADY's avatar

@perspicacious If a court awards you damages in a rental case, they will not go after the loser to collect your damages. You have to do that yourself, using a collection agency. What enforcement of a judgement are you thinking of? Even in child custody cases, the court does nothing – same with restraining orders – the police, or the CPS might help, but the court will not.

perspicacious's avatar

Collecting a judgment is different from enforcing one. It’s difference in language here. Of course courts enforce judgments, but in a civil case, you get a piece of paper which gives you the right to “collect” on your judgment.

YARNLADY's avatar

@perspicacious My response was to @walterallenhaxton In my town courts do not enforce judgments in rental cases so I don’t know what your comments are referring to

Nullo's avatar

@AstroChuck I was referring to the history of matrimony, not the history of matrimony in the United States.

AstroChuck's avatar

Understood.

bea2345's avatar

Surely it depends upon the terms of the contract. For example, a contract dependent upon the parties undertaking not to have children might not be enforceable should the wife become pregnant. It might be very hard to persuade a court that a pregnancy (where the husband is the father) was grounds for divorce.

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