A University of Ottawa student’s master’s thesis arguing there should be a trial period for marriage has not gained much traction among many Catholics. Most see it as contrary to one of the basic elements of marriage — that those entering into a marriage have an intention of permanence. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Nothing short-term about marriage

By 
  • August 28, 2014

A proposal that marriages should have a trial period has received a lot of media attention but the notion runs afoul of what marriage is all about, particularly for Catholics.

“The idea certainly goes contrary to one of the basic elements of marriage, that being commitment,” said Fr. Larry Bordonaro, judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Catholic Marriage Tribunal. “Couples enter into marriage with the intention of permanence. They commit to one another for life, knowing full well that there will be good times and difficult times.

“(So) a short-term marriage is simply a legal contract that can either expire or be renewed; it isn’t a marriage at all.”

This conversation began after Véronique Laliberté, who studied law at the University of Ottawa, began speaking to media about her master’s thesis which won the Haykal-Sater prize for the best French-language thesis submitted at her school. The idea is that before couples tie the knot, they must extensively review the laws governing marriage and divorce with a lawyer, discuss divorce parameters and set a short-term length for their relationship, a term they would choose, although Laliberté used five years in her paper.

“There are three options after the term,” she said. “One you get divorced, the second one you renew your vows and the third one is to do nothing and then you are going to be married for the rest of your life like many people are right now. They will be more aware of the laws ... (so) it is going to be easier, not easy but easier, to get divorced.”

While some have criticized this as a pessimistic view of marriage, Laliberté said that with divorce rates being what they are today separating from your spouse is not an unlikely scenario. In 2008 alone, the last year Statistics Canada collected divorce data, more than 70,000 married couples officially called it quits while fewer young couples exchange vows each year. That appears to be a relatively consistent trend since the turn of the millennium.

Laliberté argues that short term marriage contracts will strengthen the institution of marriage by encouraging young Canadians to wed because “a term of five years is going to be more easy for them to make that commitment.” She is considering pursuing the topic of short-term marriages as a PhD student and eventually hopes to not only see it in law but also be the first to take advantage of saying I do at least for the short-term.

But the idea isn’t exactly new. In 2011 the Mexico City govern-ment introduced a mandatory two-year trial period prior to committing for life. Germany has been debating the idea of doing something similar since 2007 but has yet to enshrine it in law.

What this does however, is devalue the institute of marriage, said Andrea Mrozek, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

“When people get married the expressed point is that you are signing on the dotted line for an enduring life-long relationship; that is the point,” said Mrozek. “People who don’t want that already have all kinds of relation-ship forms in which they can move and be short-term. You can do any number of things today and none of it has a stigma.”

Adding a short-term clause to marriage contracts would es-sentially be “replicating what we already have,” she said.

“Marriage is a social building block,” she said. “It is a strengthening institution, it ensures that parents are affiliated with their children strongly over the duration of raising them. Short term marriages are only negotiable when you consider two adults, but once children come into the picture you can’t afford to be con-sidering five-year contracts.

“(So) short-term marriage can only be discussed and entertained in a society where there is little concern for children.”

She continued by saying without children, or at least with little concern for them, no society would be able to sustain itself long-term.

Bordonaro said whatever the government does really won’t influence Catholic weddings.

“The Church has, and always will, witness marriages where Catholics enter into a life-long commitment to marriage,” he said. “It will never accept or witness a union with the intention that it (may) be short term. Christ elevated the institution of marriage to that of a sacrament where a man and a woman are called by God to commit them-selves to live as husband and wife, and through God’s grace, nurture one another in living out the ends of a sacramental union by pledging to love and honour each other for life.” 

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