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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Partnership Contract

My husband and I married ourselves, which is to say--we are not legally married. We don't recognize the right of the government to label or control or validate our partnership. This does not please my grandmother, but it pleases me (and my tax accountant).

In a Libertarian society, marriage would always be like this. It would be a partnership between two consenting adults, and they would be responsible for defining their terms. Without a church or a government to define marriage and determine what would be fair if the marriage were to dissolve, it would be up to each couple to create their own marriage contract.

We didn't make a contract when we got married; we didn't even join our finances, but we did make the following verbal agreement: should one or both of us wish to dissolve our partnership, we must first  attend an Imago therapy session for six consecutive weeks and then take a vacation together, away from our current lives, for no less than two weeks.

Things got a lot more complicated when we decided to start a family. Breaking up would no longer be as simple as two individuals with separate careers and bank accounts dividing up some furniture. I didn't realize just how much more complicated having children would be, however, until I read Ann Crittenden's book The Price of Motherhood, a very flawed book politically but a crucial read for an independent woman like myself who had totally bought into the dream of taking a few years off and then going back to work.

According to Crittenden, studies have shown that not only is it much harder than women think to return to work, the negative repercussions of taking even three months off from the labor force are still discernible after twenty years. As a mom, your first priority will never be your job, and even if it is, your boss won't think so. Your paycheck will reflect this.

Your husband's paycheck will rise if you stay home, but if you go back to work he will make 20% less for the same reason--a man with a wife at home is like a man with an executive assistant, a man with a working wife is an "involved father" and can't possibly be as focused on his job.

Other important takeaways from Crittenden's book include that a married spouse, in the US, has no legal claim on the other spouse's income and motherhood is the single biggest risk factor in determining how likely you are to end up in poverty in old age.

Armed with this knowledge, how would a Libertarian family do things better? My husband and I created a simple and clear Partnership Contract. Here it is:

1. In marriage all assets are owned by The Partnership--all paychecks, all savings, all real estate, all inheritances, all bonuses, all awards. Both partners have equal ownership of all wealth and possessions.

2. Prior to breaking up, the following must be completed:
-Husband and wife will attend an Imago therapy session for twelve consecutive weeks
-Husband and wife will vacation together, away from the children and their current lives, for a period of no less than two weeks

3. If the breakup is to proceed, the following custody arrangement is non-negotiable (unless both parents wish to negotiate)
-They will share custody of the children 50/50.
-If one parent has been the primary caretaker for more than a year and wishes to remain the primary caretaker, they will share the children as follows Monday-Friday with primary caretaker, Saturday-Sunday with non-primary 2 out of every 3 weekends.

4. The division of stuff will be 50/50. All monies and assets will continue to be seen as property of The Partnership to be divided equally until the youngest child is 18. *The goal is to create two financially equal households so that the standard of living for both partners is the same and neither is penalized for being the primary caretaker. If one partner decides to partner with someone new (defined as cohabitating), his/her standard of living with his/new partner should not be considered a bonus but rather factored into the division of income that will continue to create two equal households for the original partners.

5. After the children are out of the house, the primary caretaker is entitled to alimony for 2 years per year he/she was the primary caretaker. Again, the goal of alimony is that the partners end up with equal standards of living.

6. This contract can be altered or nullified only by mutual consent.

Hopefully, our marriage will last. If it doesn't, I will let you know how the above contract worked out for us.

Either way, for the women (primary caretakers) out there, you are the one with the most to lose. Protect yourself.