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U of O student challenges traditional marriage values in thesis proposal

photo courtesy of Véronique Laliberté

A graduate student at the University of Ottawa has a proposal for all those who are afraid to propose.

Véronique Laliberté’s thesis proposal on fixed-term marriages has got Canada talking about what it means to be married.

In a fixed-term marriage, two people agree to be married for a set number of years. At the end of this period their marriage dissolves unless they wish to renew their vows.

Laliberté said in an interview with the Fulcrum that she believes the concept of a fixed-term marriage allows “people who are afraid of commitment to get married, but not forever.” The fixed contract could very well lead to a lifelong marriage, said the 27-year-old law student.

Laliberté was inspired by Eric vs. Lola, a famous Quebec civil rights case where the judge ruled that unmarried couples are not entitled to the same protections as married couples. A fixed-term marriage could give these couples legal protection while not forcing them to make a commitment they are not ready for.

A lifelong marriage is unrealistic, she said.

“It’s not for better or for worse, it’s for better. And if it’s going to be worse, then we obviously have the divorce.”

According to Statistics Canada, in 2008 there were 70,226 divorces in Canada, and 41 per cent of all marriages were expected to end in divorce before the 30th anniversary. Statistics Canada said it will not be providing yearly divorce rates after 2008 due to budget cuts.

Fixed-term marriages would make divorce less complicated, Laliberté said. If a couple does decide to separate, they would not have to go to a lawyer at the end of their contract because the marriage would automatically dissolve.

“It’s two to say yes and only one to get divorced,” said Laliberté. “So even if you are trusting yourself, you see yourself with this person forever, you never know if the other person will be there forever.”

It’s the kind of suggestion that was bound to attract critics.

Andrea Mrozek, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, wrote an article for the National Post opposing Laliberté’s views, in which she said “family cannot be successfully regulated by contract.”

Mrozek argued that fixed-term marriage would negatively affect any children that the couple may have. “The problem is that the point of a contract is to clarify where and how each party can get out,” she wrote. “And no child or adult thrives when they believe the love of their family exists only by contractual obligation.”

Laliberté acknowledges the potential issues with a fixed-term marriage. There would be numerous legal complications—Canadian courts do not currently recognize the end of a fixed contract as grounds for divorce—and cultures that value tradition would not be keen to adopt it.

She argues that a fixed-term marriage would not detract from the seriousness of marriage. When two people agree to a five-year marriage, “they can really see themselves in five years obviously, so this is going to be a real commitment,” she said.

The idea is not unique, however. According to the National Post, similar ideas have been proposed in Australia, Germany, and Mexico in the past few years.

Laliberté said she believes some people are “ready to have a new thing in marriage,” but that she doesn’t know if society is ready for it.