Should Marriage Be More Like an Employment Contract?

A reader named J.D. Peralta is asking for your help:

For about the last six years I have developing a theory about how marriage should be legal social contracts.  I feel that legal marriage (not marriage by the church) should be treated more like employment agreements. These “marriage contracts” should bring with them a term that ranges from 3-5 years. The term of the contracts will be developed by both parties but I feel that they should include things like expectation, key areas of responsibilities, etc.

I have been working on this in my spare time but I am currently taking a management class for my bachelor’s degree and I have the opportunity to really put some muscle behind this theory. That is where I need your help. I have been researching this topic for the last two weeks but I have found very little data that could be considered as legitimate sources to support my argument.  I am hoping that you can point me to some reference that help me to complete my argument.  Any assistance you can provided me would be greatly appreciated.

A bit more about Peralta. He is 32, works as an accountant for a public accounting firm in Los Angeles, was born in El Salvador but has lived in the U.S. since 1986. His parents have been married for 39 years; he has two older brothers. “In case you are curious I do have a girlfriend,” he writes, “and we have been together for almost 5 years. I have discussed my theory with her and she finds the concept reasonable.”


I am a supply chain professional and love to be able to sort things out properly addressing all possible risks & their mitigation.

In year 2011, I along with my wife decided to develop a comprehensive document that tried to address various issues related to relationship expectations and responsibilities of running a household. It also documented monetary affairs related to living expenses, monthly budgets, shopping, date nights, splitting of investments & annual performance bonuses etc.

I do not hesitate to accept that the "Roommate Agreement" often referred to in the TV series “The Big Bang Theory” by Sheldon was an inspiration for this exercise.

We both thoroughly read/discussed and accepted the terms and conditions of the agreement.
Things worked as per the contract for a month or two. Household chores and monthly spend was also being managed accordingly. However, after a while, it didn't feel right. The spontaneous nature of the relationship, the cordial love and care had started to turn into a reference to articles of the agreement. It was more Business-like than Love. Eventually, we decided not to use the agreement any more.

Today I am happily married for 5 years and look forward to many more.



Supply chain here as well. Does your wife ever go mad at your inability to not plan? Mine does. Vacation, weekends, just about everything....except my desk...i manage by stacks!

William Lucke


The use of contracts for marriage is little known and widely misunderstood. The Constitution prohibits States from interfering with the right to enter contracts. This means that individuals may enter into a marriage contract without interference from the government and without a government marriage license. The terms of the marriage/relationship, to include the items you mentioned, as well as the method whereby the relationship may be ended are specified in the contract.


Marriage IS a contract. A marriage ceremony in a church, or blessed by a religous institution, is not the same thing and, at least for this discussion, should be separated.

Alimony and child support are legal obligations that are supported by the marriage contract. That would be why some people enter into pre-nuptials that spells out what will be owed if the marriage is dissolved.

Historically and culturally, marriages have been in different forms. Multiple wives or husbands, multiple caretakers for offspring, lengths, doweries (sp?) etc...

No reason would exist to not allow two or more people, of legal age, to enter and define a contract.

Someone may find it morally or romantically uncomfortable however, and that would be their opinion but would be a weak legal objection. Other objections such as safety of offspring or society also tend to fail when compared to what someone may do legally marriage wise.

One can marry someone on death row and gain conjugal visits.
One can marry a known sex offender/child abuser/drug abuser.
One can marry someone barren or unable to biologically have children.



It should be like an rental contract.

Even if the landlord is offered more money for the condo,and that couple dont have kids that could destroy something ,or look that always will be at their jobs,he respects contract.

And if tenant finds a bigger place, closer to his new job,and more space for terrific barbeques,.respects the contract.


The beauty of the system is, it's already evolved (if you will) into a type of contract. I can speak for Hindu weddings atleast, wherein the entire ritual of marriage is essentially a contract (albeit one of the celestial kind) detailing the roles and responsibilities of both parties. The difference here ofcourse, is that there is no real negotiation in place-that is to say, the terms of the contract haven't been decided by the people getting married, but by social pressures (hence the whole women should stay in the house, men should go out to work thing)

If my understanding of weddings in other cultures is right, it's pretty much the same everywhere.

I think you could start of with that- how marriages have already evolved as a contract which has been formed by socio-cultural pressures. Then you could move on to examine all the pressures which *do* shape marriage in the *contemporary* sense. After all, traditional marriages never had to deal with working women, away from home parents and spouses, etc.

Then you could look at from a business perspective, keeping in mind the above context, on how to actually frame a contract beneficial to both parties.

It would be nice if you could elaborate *what* kinds of sources you need? Sources which look at marriage from a social and individual psychology issue? Sources which look at the economic and financial dynamics of marriage? All in all, I'm interested to see where this paradigm goes.



My boyfriend and I from day 1 of our relationship have always joked that our relationship was under contract. I think it came from the fact that when we met, neither one of us was interested in getting into a serious relationship, and now we've been together happily for seven years. C'est la vie.

Nothing was ever in writing which gave us ample opportunity to say things like: yeah, you have to get up and do xyz, it's in the subsection 4b clause 16 of the contract - you signed it! On the other hand, Whenever we are annoyed at each other, the issue can be put to rest by saying: to bad, you can't dump me, our contract goes another three weeks.

The first couple years our "contracts" we're monthly. Then they gradually evolved to quarterly, bi-annual and annual renewals. Somehow, the concept keeps us sane. If we ever decided to get married, I can't imagine we wouldn't continue the concept.



Basically, every legal marriage should have a pre-nup...

Michael WF

Take a look at Belgian law and the contract marriage vs. the standard church marriage. Under the contract form, one can establish terms of the agreement, who owns what, how things are divided upon separation, roles and responsibilities, etc.

Also, in business, typical modern distributor, alliance and joint venture contracts cover many of the relationship essentials of which there are about 27.

The bigger issue that is NOT well handled is that of children and what happens with them with their upbringing and upon divorce - even if there is a semblance of pre-agreement (before the couple has children).


How are divorce rates in Belgium? Fertility rates? Illegitimacy rates?


How did you determine that a 3-5 years would be an adequate term for these contracts? Is it really possible to quantify the amount of time your expectations or ideas of shared/allocated responsibilities will change? As someone who is not married, but who has been in the same relationship for 8 years, I cannot see how an employer-like contract would have changed the decisions I have made within the relationship, and i especially cannot see how our relarionship would have been assisted by a statute of limitations on our expectations. We aren't fickle people, but events do sway our opinions about things. Since we cannot say how many of these life-altering /responsibility shifting/ expextation changing events might happen within a given timeframe, I think what you're proposing is impossible.


Peralta is very naive to assume an intimate relationship where 2 become 1 in all respects can be dissolved or re-negotiated 3-5yrs after the fact. As an attorney who unfortunately has had to work through divorces, it is not a simple matter to dissolve a union of 2 people, even with a settlement agreement or a pre-nup, and invariably couples will fight over the small stuff and at the root of the fight is less about who is entitled to what, and more about tearing apart a unit. which is what marriage is, a unit formalised in a contract, a contract not only between the spouses but with society.


I'm glad someone has pointed this out!

It seems that most of the discussion has focused on how to mitigate a disagreement between two individuals, but it's been forgotten that the point of a marriage is to *marry* two individuals into one, creating a new unit: the family.

Back when voting was restricted to men who owned property, the idea wasn't "Haha yeah, let's really stick it to those dumb women," it was that if a man owned property it could safely be assumed in most cases that he had a wife and kids, and that he was the head of that household (and a lot of the time, a benevolent one). So really, it was a way of giving the vote to a family rather than an individual. In other words, treating the family as the basic building block of a functional society--which is exactly what families, and not individuals, are.

Now I'm not saying we need to go back to only allowing property-owning men to vote. I'm saying we should try to keep in mind that marriage is essentially the formation of a single family unit (or, is supposed to be), not just a gold star next to individual A & individual B.


Married SOB

Allot will change if people even start thinking about marriage as a contract - the exact type, duration and obligations are less important. It's almost a 3-party contract, involving the state significantly more than any other type of contract.

People have this warm fuzzy idea about marriage as a stage in their life that they need to reach en route to happiness, and get bamboozled into walking a legal wasteland filled with landmines that can literally kill


"People have this warm fuzzy idea about marriage as a stage in their life that they need to reach en route to happiness"

I can't tell if you're saying that people should instead think of marriage as the final rite of passage into adulthood (as I do), or that people should instead think of marriage as a horrible form of slavery to be avoided at all costs.

Which are you saying?


The biggest problem is that governments have set laws in place to trump the contract signed by a husband and wife (required 50/50 splits, etc...). You make a lot of valid points about marriage contracts, and they should be set between the two people involved in the marriage and no-one else involved. If two consenting adults wish to have a contract with an expiration date, with specific separation details, etc... that should be their prerogative.

When it comes to children, that is a different story. Every child should have a lifetime contract (or at least through the first 18 years) with both parents to ensure that they are taken care of, no matter what happens to the parental relationship. Stay together or split up, both parents have a legal obligation to protect the child until adulthood (age 18, or 26 according to the ACA), and this would be enforceable through governmental law.