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From Wedlock to Wedlease

Be it resolved:

Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a “wedlease.”

Here’s how a marital lease could work: Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

A wedlease could also imitate a real-estate lease through the use of security deposits. Each spouse could deposit a sum of money with an independent third party to ensure compliance with the wedlease. A further step could be to authorize the third party to arbitrate disputes between the spouses.

O brave new world that has such leases in it!

Further details here.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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If I'm misreading the tone of this post I apologize, but I found it offensive. I can't think of anything I've read in a long time that takes such a flip and uncomprehending approach to the stressors on modern marriages, particularly the stringent sexual rules of a Catholic marriage. There are those of us who have stuck with it over the long haul, and it doesn't always get easier as the decades and old age approach. 

Where is this from?

Strange. And I dream of forbidding divorce for parents of minors...


It appears to be from the Washington Post opinion page.

How a "wedlease" differs materially from a civil union, I'm not sure.  It appears to be a particular iteration of a civil union, with a fixed, renewable term.  The proposed mutual financial stake makes it sort of like a civil union combined with a prenup.

If I lease an apartment, I have the right to use the apartment for a fixed period of time, but I don't own the property.  Someone else does.  But in a wedlease, who "owns" the marriage, if my partner and I are just leasing it?  Who is the landlord?  ("Wedlord?").

I guess traditional marriage insists on joint ownership, with all the risks and all the rewards that comes with it.

The notion of a rational marital break-up, unfreighted by anxiety, anger, heartbreak, betrayal, depression, etc. has its appeal.  But I doubt this vehicle would avoid the pain.

I note this link at the bottom of the wedlease story, which appears to be some hopeful news on the possibility of reconciliation for divorcing spouses.


I knew a young couple who got married just to join the Peace Corps together (Peace Corps wouldn't place them in the same site unless they were legally married)  Before getting married,  they checked checked around  to see if there were a way the marriage could automatically terminate at the end of their Peace Corps service.  The various people they asked were uniformly outraged by the suggestion.   Anyway, they did marry, and  they divorced post-Peace Corps and are happily married to other people now. 


Sounds like another scheme for lawyers. There already is "wedlease". It is called living together or moving in together. Lots and lots of people do it. Or they live together separately. Again, lots and lots of people do it. Not unique and not unusual.

Marriage implies commitment, mongamy, fidelity, forever. It is not the same as living together. Even if people do not hold to a sacramental view of marriage, nobody can argue that it is just a piece of paper. That piece of paper means something public, and tangible.



Try Retrouvaille.. thousands of marriages recover. but like all recovery... it's time and effort.

un-recovery is called misery..

Check out the comments.  There's this gem:  "Will the couples rent out their children ? No, they will let the "village" raise the little buggers."

Although I think this opinion is problematic, at the very least, I would note that its logic was directed more at persuading those who are unlikely to be or get married now to give it a try by making it seem less permanent and scary.  Considering that fully 50% of children born to women under the age of 30, including high percentages in all racial groups, are now born outside of marriage, you really have to adjust your glasses on this one.  A generation ago being married was the norm and you could jeer at people who weren't. Now you need to persuade an awful lot of people that marriage will make their lives better.  The sneering that accompanies comments to this article suggests a lot of people see the benefit and value of marriage as being self-evident, that is, they are still operating under the principles of the previous generation. 

There's a conflict of values/interests in all this between the usually short-term happiness of lovers/partners/spouses and the long-term happiness of children.  Splitting/divorce is obviously good for some adults, but usually very bad/terrible for any children involved.

How does one decide between these conflicting interests?  Or:  how does one *prevent* such dilemmas from arising? 

If every marriage was happy and lifelong, no one would be suggesting alternatives. As it is, a great many marriages end in divorce; others struggle on miserably to a bitter end. Many couples never come to marriage at all. Certainly, greater commitment and fortitude would help, but saying that is no more than to say that if we were better people, we would have better institutions. It is an aspiration, not a solution.

So perhaps the question ought to be: is a term-limited commitment, with defined rights and obligations, better than no commitment at all? Would it be better than abrupt abandonment, divorce, or years of gritting one's teeth while sharing a domicile with a virtual stranger? Children loom large in any sort of relationship, but their needs are often very imperfectly met, and sometimes not even consulted, in current arrangements. Would something else be better for them, or worse?

Oddly, the inexorable approach of a lease's termination date might induce some couples to examine their relationship in a fresh light and work a little harder to maintain and improve it.

In any case, those who are up to the challenge of marriage for life could still make that choice, God bless them.



We really do this already, given divorce.  Perhaps leasing would be more honest and fairer to those who can't (or whose spouses con't) make a life-long committment.

Absolutely not!  We need to maintain the time-honored practice of serial monogamy that passes for sacrosanct American marriage!

Besides, what would wedlease do for adultery?  The concept would become meaningless.  We need to keep a meaningful sense of adultery. 

that does seem the view of a retro first century Jew: Mark 10:2–12. But what would he know -celibate that he was?

I assumed the article was meant to be tongue in cheek.   It's written by an attorney--I think this is what they call humor in the circles he travels in.

I think Keith Ward gives a pretty good alternate explanation of what Jesus meant in Mark 10:2–12  ....



I don't think it was necessarily tongue in cheek. It is another example of our excessively technocratic society that is blinding people and obscuring the reality of organic, human relationships.  Human relationships and the whole I-Thou sacredness of encounters is now subsumed under contractual interpretations and understandings. Truly chilling. The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is another example of "love stories" in our brave new world. No wonder anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs are 2 of the top 5 pharamceuticals sold in the US! The stats are likely similar for all other Western countries as well.

Top 100 Drugs for Q2 2013


I thought the proposition of "wedlease" was some kind of smug, satiric criticism of our "divorce culture," which is what set me off. Apparently the authors are stone cold serious, so sorry if I was huffy.

The notion of a "trial marriage" has been around for a long time, and I'm not sure how it would be attractive to couples who want to try it. It strikes me as defeating the purpose of the trial by placing an arbitrary expiration date on it.

Barbara's suggestion that it's aimed at those who have children out of wedlock is interesting, but I'm not sure what benefit those who want children without benefit of marriage would see in a temporary arrangement. Practically speaking, would it be any better than the child support requirements now placed on single parents? Just wondering.

In any case, I'm not sure that any social engineering proposals or religious programs can possibly prepare anybody for decades of marriage (or parenthood, for that matter). 

Glad I resisted a hurried huffy response!


If the norms are too tough for weak humans, lighten them, say these lawyers.  In the 19th century at least a few reformers thought the opposite - they were too good for traditional marriage.  John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida community in upstate New York proposed, and practiced, "complex marriage." Noyes thought he was saved and therefore could do no wrong, a notion he picked up in Divinity school.


"In complex marriages, all the women of the community were wives of all the men and all men of the community were husbands of all the women. Sexual relations were permissible as long as there was mutual agreement and as long as men practiced continence so as to preclude pregnancy. Childbearing was a community decision and was based on selective breeding."


With legal obstacles falling it's just a matter of time before a form of complex marriage is revived - for communitarians with high self-esteem.


One of my colleagues early in my career had been married several years.  So far as I knew, he and his wife had a decent marriage (no children).  A few years later, they relocated out of state.  At some point afterwards, I learned they had divorced.  My former colleague later told me that before marrying, he and fiancee had specifically agreed that if ever they were to encounter irreconcilable differences, they would agree to divorce rather than, as I recall, make a capital case of the matter.  I heard he later remarried.  I agree with McCrea: We should try to preserve adultery and serial monogamy.  We lost the Dodo bird many years ago (Wikipedia says, "The last widely accepted sighting of a Dodo was in 1662.").  We darn near lost the snail darter!  Saint Mark was a product of his time.  Times change, and doctrine develops:  Jesus condoned slavery, for example; the Church now condemns it.  Good Pope John XXIII said we should be attentive to the "signs of the times", suggesting, it seems to me, that the Church should be prepared to be responsive to the culture.  On this point, Matthew 18:18-19 comes to mind.  (i guess i'd better quit while i'm ahead :-)

Had Jesus but known "good Pope John," he would have surely reconsidered Mark 10:18; but then maybe that was only Saint Mark; and coming as it does right after Mark 10:2-12 Keith Ward would have found a way to weasel out of it.

What did Moynihan say about "defining development of doctrine down-Ward?"

 If there's a weasel on this issue, I think it's a church that says divorce is always wrong and then sells annulments.

Shia Islam has something similar to this proposal (whether the proposal is serious or not) concerning temporary marriages:

"Nikāḥ al-Mutʿah (Arabic: نكاح المتعة‎, "pleasure marriage") is a fixed-term or short-term marriage in Shia Islam, where the duration and compensation are both agreed upon in advance."‘ah

In France, can't one enter into a civil union called "concubinage"?  How does that compare to what we have in the US?

"concubinage" just means living together without being married.

What has existed for a number of years is "PACS", a contract that is like a light version of marriage. It was originally designed to address the problems of gay couples when one of the two partners had AIDS (hospital visits, inheritance, etc.) but has become very polular - in 2010 there were 10,000 same-sex PACS, 200,000 heterosexual PACS, and 250,000 regular marriages.

As of this year the French have same-sex marriage as well.

Lovely pictures accompany an article in the Science section of the NYT this morning, "Monogamy and Human Evolution":


From that:


In our own lineage, however, fathers went further. They had evolved the ability to hunt and scavenge meat, and they were supplying some of that food to their children. “They may have gone beyond what is normal for monogamous primates,” said Dr. Opie.

The extra supply of protein and calories that human children started to receive is widely considered a watershed moment in our evolution. It could explain why we have brains far bigger than other mammals.

Adam, my understanding of "pleasure marriage" is that it is the designated loophole to forestall spending a lot of time in prison (or worse, death) for the crime of prostitution.  We don't need pleasure marriage.

I once counseled a young woman who realized after two months that her marriage was a horrible mistake -- no abuse or anything, just ill-advised.  It was as much effort to get her out of a marriage as if she had been married for much longer.  So I would definitely be on board with a revision of current laws that would allow for the reversal of marriage within 1 year if one or both of the parties realize they made a big mistake, no divorce proceedings necessary. 

That's not wedlease, but it would, I believe, be an appropriate adjustment that does not do violence to the institution.  One of the points made in the opinion was that people are already changing the institution with prenuptial agreements and similar arrangements, which is true.  However, I think that as with any prior change to marriage, new default arrangement rules should be more of a reflection of an emerging consensus on what strikes people as fair given people are already doing it anyway.  I don't think wedlease works on that front.  Yes, people get divorced, but that is rarely anyone's intent at the front end, so I doubt if wedlease would make anyone's life much better.

I assume the author (Mr Rampell) of the piece included by Robert was offering the notion for serious consideration.  I don't believe Robert was doing so.  Rather, I suspect, Robet was sturring up a bit of hopefully helpful mischief.   Boy howdy am I weary of this "previous generation done me wrong" lament.  The predictable challenges found in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships did not arrive with the birth of my myself, my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents....well, you get the picture.  And it is highly unlikely they will be fully resolved by this generation or any of its progeny.  To blame marriage as the cause of relationship disasters is about as useful as blaming government for bad politics.  The majority of the time the relationship was a disaster before the marriage.  The majority of the time the politician was a disaster before entering government.  Bottomline, if a person is looking for an easy time, stay away from commitment, whether to another individual or a municipality.  Rather than find an easy out of a commitment how about strongly suggesting a person is required to show some real world maturity before commitment.

Your Christian forbearance in the face of my impulsive huffiness is always noted and appreciated, Father!

George D--

It sounds like you've made an argument for (traditional) marriage.

Yes Mark, marriage has evolved into most people understanding it as a monogamous, permanent partnership. It is qualitatively different than other intimate relationships. It is a public institution and, it seems to me, that the same sex debate is more about same sex people having access to that institution more than it is questioning the institution itself. In that sense, I support same sex people having access to the institution of marriage at least civilly.

The danger is that in the cacophony of voices on this issue, it is unclear what proponent of same sex marriage want (e.g access to the public institution or dissolution of the institution). The editors here at Commonweal suggested more reflection which is wise.

A lot to be said (and more should be said !) for stable, commited relationships. I understand how difficult it can be!

I understand how divorce can happen and I do not question people for this painful choice. It is complicated and I second ed's Retrouvaille shout out. 

Retrouvaille couples are caring and committed people, often those who have been through the program themselves. Where the program cannot repair marriages, it often helps couples postpone divorce and maintain some kind of detente, a separation with cohabitation, as it were, until minor children are grown. The program is designed particularly to help couples learn to communicate with less heat and less dredging of old grievances,

However, Retrouvaille is not for marriages that need immediate intervention (spousal abuse, criminal behavior, serious addiction, mental breakdowns, etc.), and it's volunteers are not professionals. The program may only be offered a couple of times per year. The initial weekend retreat usually requires a modest fee for food and lodging, and couples may have to drive some ways out of town to the location. Finding child care coverage for an overnighter and weekly meetings for six weeks is difficult for some couples, especially low-income people.

Parishes may want to consider a) advertising when Retrouvaille sessions are scheduled in the area, b) providing program fee assistance, and c) offering to help find childcare arrangements.

 If there's a weasel on this issue, I think it's a church that says divorce is always wrong and then sells annulments.

Crystal, neither statement is true.  Editors, this sort of trolling should be policed.




I am in agreement with much of what you write, including that same sex people should have access to the institution of marriage   As far as I know, they do.

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