While the institution of marriage continues to outpace divorces, the reality is that the number of “common law’ arrangements continues to grow. But for those who actually engage in a true marriage the statistics show there is a fifty-fifty chance the marriage will end in divorce. Of course it is this astonishing level of divorce that is used by those who elect to pursue the common law path to justify their situation. The rationale seems to be that why would I get married because there is a real possibility of a divorce and its just a bunch of words anyway. It’s hard to argue with the statistics on divorce but is the marriage vow just a bunch of words? If they are just a bunch of words then why not say them? In fact why is there such a thing as marriage and how does it differ from these casual relationships?
The reality is that if two people enter into one of these live-in arrangements they are assuming a great deal of risk, risks that they probably don’t recognize or think won’t apply to them. The female in these arrangements is particularly at risk, especially if there are children. Generally the male is the breadwinner in these arrangements and the female may either not be employed or employed at a much lower salary. Thus the male holds the advantage because he can leave anytime taking his income with him and leaving the female destitute or nearly so. The female has no legal rights regarding community property, no claim for spousal support, but she might have a right to child support if a child is involved. Furthermore, the female can easily be manipulated by the male through intimidation and threats to leave. The fact is that these arrangements are conveniences – primarily for the male – that show a shocking lack of commitment and regardless of protestations to the contrary a lack of love as well.
Beyond these obvious risks there is the health risk. Suppose one of the partners suffers some devastating illness. The other partner has no legal right to act on behalf to the other, that right remains with the family and the “domestic partner” is not family in any legal sense. Suppose there is an accident and one of the partners is killed? Unless that partner has been careful to name the other as the beneficiary then the insurance goes to the estate not the partner. Essentially these informal domestic arrangements result in bastard children, legal issues, insecurity, and a shocking lack of commitment because the partners do not bond as they do in a legal and formal marriage.
Marriage requires a commitment – a public commitment that has both religious and legal ramifications. It is a formal ceremony where one person dedicates their life to the other and with this commitment comes numerous benefits, not the least of which is a sense of security that the other person won’t simply walk out and if they do there are some significant ramifications to that decision. At the very least there are the financial issues which govern the division of property and assets, but there are many longer term impacts as well.
Beyond these legal and mundane issues regarding marriage there are some very significant emotional ones as well. The first of these is “love” not the physical love that drives the informal arrangements but the deep and abiding emotional love that only comes with time and dedication to the other person’s well being and happiness. This doesn’t mean that this emotional bonding can’t happen in the common law arrangements but it is much less likely to happen because if this feeling of care and concern for the other person is there the commitment is not otherwise why not say those simple words that would have given legal protection to the other partner.
Certainly marriage is not a bed of roses and every marriage has its ups and downs. As anyone who has been married for more than a couple of years knows, keeping a marriage together requires work and commitment to making it work. Unfortunately that lesson seems to be the one that is missing today as more and more people spring from broken marriages. These people have no role model and what they saw was the going gets tough the solution is to leave and move on to a happier situation. The fact that this decision to place ones self above the other and any children is actually a selfish act is missed entirely. These seem to be the people who believe they are entitled to a life of perpetual happiness and indulgence that requires no sacrifice by them. Enduring marriages rest on the belief that commitment is required, personal sacrifice is required, and that for those who are willing to give up anything for the other partner, then nothing must be given up. Marriage is not a fifty-fifty proposition and on any given day it may be 90-10, but over time it works out to be a true partnership.