Marriage Contracts, Crazy Prenups Could Become The Norm


It used to be so simple: boy meets girl, boy marries girl, they have children, eventually become grandparents, and grow old together till death do them part.

Not anymore. Marriage has become a more complicated institution with each passing decade. People are getting married older than ever before, and gay marriage added new issues.

“The frequency with which divorce occurs these days means that not planning for it can be a risky proposition,” says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV.

In fact, the idea of marriage, what it means, and how it should work could be changing more than you realize. Hollywood, as it often is, seems to be leading this charge. After Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes announced their divorce after five years of marriage earlier this year, rumors popped up that the couple had entered into a five-year marriage contract. While this rumor might be unfounded, it led to some interesting discussion of marriage and its place in 21st century life.

The New York Times published a story last week that took an in-depth look into marriage contracts and how they might be the future of the institution. Writer Matt Richtel suggested a 20-year marriage contract might be the way to go, and Richtel spoke to several marriage experts who seemed to believe the idea is not entirely a bad one. One expert, a sociology professor who has written books on marriage, suggested couples could enter into contracts of any length they deem fit.

Prenuptial agreements have long been standard fare, especially when one spouse is considerably wealthier than the other before they get married. Prenups can deal not only with finances but also with issues like who gets custody of children in the event of a divorce. However, the contents of prenups appear to be getting stranger and more interesting than ever before.

“Prenuptial contracts can run the gamut from the mundane, like money and property, to the quixotic, like dress and appearance,” says Sweet.

Last month, a prominent New York City divorce lawyer told the New York Post about some of the craziest things he’s seen go into a prenup. Among them were:

  • Weight clauses, including a $10,000 payment from a husband to his wife if his weight exceeded 240 pounds
  • An agreement that a wife would never wear green clothes
  • A clause that stipulated a wife would lose her shopping allowance if she failed to make four home-cooked meals a week
  • A requirement that a wife not be allowed to cut her hair

“As a rule, I tend to think that the more money is at stake, the goofier many of the provisions in the prenup turn out to be,” Sweet says.

Of course, enforcing these creative prenuptial agreements might be a little tricky. Once a couple is married for 15 or 20 years, it might be a little difficult — and dangerous — for a husband to actually cut off his wife’s shopping allowance if she only cooks at home twice one week.

However, there’s no doubt our concept of marriage is changing. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, prenup agreements that stretch the bounds of spousal expectations or the idea of finite marriage contracts, it’s apparent the institution is undergoing some change.