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Susan Pease Gadoua Headshot

Marriage Lawsuits Might Prevent Divorce

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How many pieces of paper did you sign when you got married? My husband and I signed two. Now ask yourself how many documents people sign in a divorce? Even if it isn't actually two hundred, it certainly feels that way for the average person who has to slog through the morass of legalese.

Divorce is hard -- emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, financially and socially. For many people, divorce is a traumatic event that impacts not only the nuclear family being divided, but the extended family and friends as well.

My husband, Michael, has an interesting idea for potentially reducing the fallout dissolutions cause. He believes that if we made it as hard to get into marriage as it is to get out of, that that would certainly weed out those who were less serious about the commitment, and make those who were more serious think long and hard before signing on the dotted line.

Perhaps if the hassles and stressors occurred at the beginning of wedlock instead of the end, people might enter into it more soberly, that is, with more caution and understanding that it is a legal agreement not unlike that of a business partnership.

As it is now, the decision to marry is often accompanied by a proposal, then a wedding shower (with gifts), then the traditional pomp and circumstance of a wedding ceremony (with gifts), followed by a lovely honeymoon in a remote location. It's all fun, romantic and more importantly, easy.

With the new procedure, the historical spectacle of getting down on one knee and asking her (or him) to marry would be substituted by the unglamorous service of process. The suitor, contemplating marriage and a life of bliss with his beloved, would retain the legal services of a competent Family Law attorney specializing in marriage -- a Marriage Attorney.

The Marriage Attorney would prepare and file the newly adopted Judicial Council form entitled: Petition To Enter Into Marriage. The Petition would be filed with the local county superior court and a Summons issued calling "the Respondent" to court on a date that would be set by the court.

Both parties and their respective attorneys, along with any pertinent witnesses (ex-lovers, childhood friends, bosses and co-workers, and roommates) would appear in court on the appointed date.

Witnesses would testify as to why these parties should be allowed to marry and they would provide legal statements about the proposed spouse's good points, bad points, virtues and vices.

The parties themselves would also testify about how they would handle such issues as raising children*, spousal support, finances, property ownership, investing, saving/spending, and conflict resolution.

*If the couple intends to have children, there may be additional testimony about their qualifications as parents." (If approved, the couple would have to file the newly enacted: Joint Petition To Have Children.)

Spousal Disclosure Statements reflecting personal health, hygiene practices, education, credit scores, religious beliefs, political affiliations, favorite foods, drinking habits, pastimes, hobbies, music and entertainment preferences, fetishes, style of humor, personality traits, vocational goals, geographical preferences, lifetime aspirations and how one squeezes the toothpaste tube, would be among the mandatory documents submitted prior to marriage.

Other pertinent items would include any criminal history, including minor traffic offenses and misdemeanors (expunged or not), a statement on how they treat animals and small children as well as how well they tip wait staff.

After all the testimony was heard, the attorneys would craft an acceptable pre-nuptial agreement. The pre-nup would lay out the issues effecting the marriage such as financial planning, the responsibility of income, domestic care, child raising, communication styles and sexual compatibility (weight restrictions would be optional).

The pre-nup would also lay out an agreeable plan in the event of divorce regarding spousal and child support; custody and visitation; property division; other issues as well as attorney's fees and litigation costs.

Terms could be modified after the marriage, in which case, the couple would enter into a "post-nuptial" agreement (a more legally binding agreement due to the fiduciary duty spouses enter into upon marriage).

The ultimate goal of the parties is a "favorable" Judgment. The couple in love hopes they will be granted the "right" to marry, but for those opposed to the union at hand, a favorable outcome would be for the court to deny them marrying rights. In challenging or less clear cases, the couple would be required to take an additional exam to see if they met the state-mandated criteria of maturity, compatibility and parenthood. Therapists may be called on to assess the couple's marriage potential as well.

If the judge finds that the parties should be allowed to marry, the Judgment would read, "good cause appearing, it is ordered, that the parties may enter into marriage." A marriage certificate would be issued, stipulating that the wedding must be held no sooner than thirty days and no later than 180 days from the date of the entry of judgment (a warming up period). If the couple does not wed within six months and fails to file for an extension, the judgment to enter into marriage is automatically vacated.

In the event of a divorce, there would be no long, drawn out court proceedings. Instead, the original marriage lawsuit would be refiled and reactivated. After a cooling off period of 30 days, the pre-nup (or post-nup) would be entered as the judgment for the dissolution and parties could go their separate ways.

Witnesses who previously testified against the couple marrying would be restrained by a court order from saying "I told you so."