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Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D. Headshot

Should Marriage Licenses be Renewable?

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What if you had the option to renew your marriage license every five years?

Before you get all "She hates marriage!!1!1!" in the comments, know this: I loved being married, and I highly recommend it.

That being said, the way things are set up now just isn't working. The divorce rate is still increasing. Many people are choosing to start their families without getting married. People just aren't sold on the "marriage is forever" concept anymore -- look at how few role models there are today for a successful lifelong marriage.

I think we can all agree that we would like to see happier people and a lower divorce rate.

What if every five years, you and your spouse could decide if you wanted to "re-up" or not?

Let's start considering the possibility of offering the option of a renewable marriage license.

Potential benefits of a renewable license:

1. Having a renewable license may actually result in people being married longer. When you actively choose something, you are more likely to put time and effort into it. If every five years, you chose to stay married, wouldn't you try to make it worth it? And sometimes just knowing that there is an out makes you want to stay in.

2. Applying for a renewable license wouldn't change your level of commitment to your future spouse. When you get married, you would still hope it's forever. Because that's how we are as people -- we like commitment and consistency. That's not going to change any time soon.

3. Potentially less impact on kids. What could be worse than a "standard" divorce battle? With a renewable license, couples simply choose not to renew. Renewable licenses could make for fewer nasty divorce battles. Make a stipulation that upon non-renewal, couples automatically assume joint custody. If they aren't interested in joint custody, they can always opt for a traditional license. (And wouldn't you want to know ahead of time if your future spouse isn't really interested in joint custody?) Ask young adults why they are choosing to get married later in life or not married at all. Nine times out of 10 they'll mention their parents' divorce. What we are doing now isn't working.

3. This could create additional revenue for states. States, you know y'all are hurting for money. Offer couples a "renewable" or "non-renewable" license option. Charge more for the non-renewable license, because other couples will be paying a renewal fee every five years. (Note that couples that have not had the "renewable vs. non-renewable" discussion beforehand may have some issues when they get to the license counter. But hey, better to have the discussion now... )

Potential pitfalls of a renewable license:

1. Dividing up assets if a couple decided not to re-up. Would the assets be divided the same as in a "standard" divorce? Maybe a renewable license would simplify things. There could be a stipulation that if don't re-up, you leave the marriage with what you put into it. Simplistic, I know. Attorneys probably won't like that concept too much. But I bet they could still do prenuptial agreements with a renewable license.

2. Remembering to renew your marriage license. Here's another way states could rake in more money. Have a "renewable grace period." If a couple renews their license after the expiration date, but during the grace period, hit them with a late fee. But do give email and written reminders. (Most people will remember their renewal date. Oh yes they will.)

3. This kind of dismantles the traditional idea of marriage. But even proponents of "traditional" marriage are getting divorced. Regardless, couples could still have the option of a non-renewable license.

4. It might take a little while to get used to hearing "Until death or our five-year renewable license period do we part" at wedding ceremonies. But seriously, it would take some time to adapt, but at this point, adapt or continue divorcing.

Renewable licenses are at least something to consider. Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

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