Law in Contemporary Society

I made an assumption that the author wanted to focus on prenuptial agreement, which I found most interesting in his original paper. I also disagreed with the author on some issues but tried to preserve his idea as much as I could.

Prenuptial Agreement As One Solution

-- By YinanZhang - 18 Apr 2009 -- Revised by YejinJennyHan?

Problems with the Current Marriage System

Some people marry because they feel “compelled.” The prevailing social notion that marriage is essential to life and the parental pressure on children to marry preclude some individuals from considering the costs and benefits of marriage before making this life-long commitment.

The benefits of marriage include the sense of stability and security from having a person to rely on and legal advantages such as tax reduction and unique property status. The costs of marriage are sexual restraint, the need to devote time for family, and the risk of the spouse’s infidelity. Problems arise when certain people – for instance, those who prioritize sexual freedom or worklife - blindly decide to marry in deference to the social norms, even though for them, a marriage is likely to impose a greater cost than benefits. Such socially- or parentally- driven marriages result in discontent and distance in relationships, and possibly, divorce.

Divorce is problematic at both individual and societal levels. Divorced couples suffer from the loss of a partner and may find themselves subject to social disapproval. On the social level, the harm stems mainly from the trauma suffered by children at the time of parental divorce.

Solution: What Should We Do?

Society should dispose of the notion that marriage is essential to life and allow people to consider marriage in light of its benefits and costs to them as individuals.

One solution is to encourage the use of prenuptial agreements - a contract between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage. Society should encourage individuals to envision the marriage life and its costs and benefits in more practical terms through the use of this tool.

Today premarital agreements are primarily used to regulate the economic consequences of divorce. We may want to expand, as some jurisdictions have done, the scope of the agreement to cover any aspect of marriage, including decision-making, responsibility sharing, and personal rights. Couples often disagree over such trivial issues as the wake-up time, keeping the rooms clean, or even television channels. These may sound unlikely to lead to divorce, and yet, some of the most common reasons of divorce are lifestyle and personality differences, including different expectations about household tasks. Minor disagreements over trivial matters escalate into bigger arguments and reinforce the sense of incompatibility in the minds of the couples.

Of course, prenuptial agreements cannot forestall all of these conflicts. The goal, however, is not to eliminate conflicts that will arise; rather, it is to encourage couples to view marriage in a practical light and evaluate its benefits more precisely. The agreement also enables couples to be mentally prepared for potential conflicts and communicate to each other about the values that are important to them, prior to marriage. For instance, the prospective husband may communicate to the prospective wife that morning sleep is extremely important for him, while the prospective wife may inform the husband that she wants him to keep the house clean. Drafting a prenuptial agreement promotes couples to not only think ahead about the life following the wedding ceremony but also to be psychologically prepared and to communicate to each other.

Many people frown at the idea of starting a sacred relationship with a secular contract that sets forth the particulars of what will happen during marriage, upon death, or divorce. Yet, many people today are starting to view marriage as no longer a sacred bond but rather a form of contract that they may breach when necessary. Just as we draft contracts that regulate every detail of our employment, housing rental, credit card use, mobile phone use, etc., prenuptial agreements may be a logical product of our modern perception of marriage as a form of “contract.” Rather than being perceived as defying the sanctity of the institution of marriage, prenuptial agreements can simply be viewed as a natural step to keep up with the 21st century perception of marriage.


Whether we choose to remain single or strive to merge our identity with that of a life partner through marital union should be left to the individual balancing of benefits and risks of marriage and should not be influenced by the social norms. We have an obligation to our own happiness to ponder the full extent of our choice’s consequences, instead of blindly following the orders of society. Society should assist individuals in performing this duty – by discarding the notion that marriage is the norm and encouraging people to envision marriage in a realistic light through legal means.

The Institution of Monogamous Marriage and Alternatives


The institution of monogamous marriage has an undeniably significant impact on our society. Most people undergo through the process at one point or another. But do they really consider the full consequences of a legal union? I believe that people, to a certain extent, marry simply because society hold them to an expectation and subconsciously instills the ideal of marriage into their minds. As children, parents expect us to go through certain essential stages of life, of which marriage is one, to attain maturity and responsibility. Society promotes the image that a life spent with our spouses until death serves as the only way to reach emotional happiness. Such a concept of soul mate stems from a dependent need for the other much comparable to a limited market for goods in which there exist only a limited number of participants, without whom our value would go to waste as in A. Leff’s Swindling and Selling. We must find the best offer for which to exchange our value in order to produce additional value for both parties. Such a concept is so ingrained into our view on the pursuit of happiness that we often fail to think beyond the boundaries of societal restraints and consider other alternatives.

Benefits of Marriage

First of all, marriage undoubtedly confers many benefits upon members of civilized society. This is unsurprising due to the fact that our society purposely promotes legal union to further order. Indeed, monogamous marriage caters to certain aspect of human nature because we are all social beings that desire feelings of stability and security. We want to acquire the peace of mind that when we go home from a long day of hard work, or when we are immobilized due to illness, someone will be there to comfort and take care of us. Long term relationships accommodate these emotional needs quite well. Furthermore, under our monogamy-oriented society, married couples enjoy unique legal advantages such as tax reduction and unique property status.

Risks of Marriage

However, we often fail to consider the disadvantages of marriage until such unions crumble and fail. We all fantasize the perfect marriage in which we happily hold the hands of our spouse until old age and death. Regrettably, statistics paint a different picture. In the U.S., approximately 40% to 50% of couples divorce. Divorce proceedings are prohibitively expensive and often lead to inequitable division of assets between divorcees in addition to divorce attorney fees. Even if we disregard the financial consequences, emotional turpitude may convince us to think twice before entering marriage. Fewer feelings of hatred exceed those which arise from former feelings of love between two individuals. Divorced couples feel betrayed, confused, and lost after they lose the other’s companionship. Among the still-married couples who experienced infidelity but for some reason decided against separation, unfaithfulness results in long-term emotional pain and distrust. Taking a further step back, even if a couple does manage to hold together a stable relationship, such an arrangement often lacks passion and eventually deteriorates into daily monotony consisting of work, chores, grocery shopping, and child-rearing. Perhaps other channels for emotional happiness exist.

Benefits/Risks of Singlehood

The most obvious alternative to marriage calls into mind singlehood. This path contains its own inherent pros and cons. A truly single person (uninvolved in exclusive long term relationship) frees himself or herself from the obligations of marriage. The most obvious advantage of singlehood grants full sexual freedom. From an evolutionary perspective, human biology inclines toward embracing several sexual partners simultaneously. Males desire to pass on their genes by impregnating as many desirable females as possible. Females strive to guarantee the survival fitness of her children by receiving the genes from the most sexually desirable males while simultaneously looking to secure a safe nurturing atmosphere from less sexually appealing, but dependable and caring males. Unfortunately, the male predilection to spread his genes and dependability often conflict against each other. Singlehood avoids the gap between evolutionary needs and the social realities of marriage. Moreover, two relatively-unbound individuals reduce the impact that jealousy has on their well-being because a non-possessing social relationship rarely leads to such a destructive emotion. On the other hand, singlehood retains its own set of flaws that monogamous marriage cures. Without a long term partner, one would not acquire emotional stability and the deep emotional connection that come with familiarity. He or she would also face immense difficulty in raising children. After all, we humans are biologically programmed to bear offspring to pass on our legacy and genes. Additionally, for quite obvious reasons, we would evade the financial and emotion stress associated with divorce.

Other Alternatives

The less extreme remedy for reducing the risks of marriage entails the prenuptial agreement. However, this pre-arrangement merely serves as a minor provision addressing the monetary issue within the overreaching contract of marriage, which involves emotional, physical, and financial commitments. Moreover, for a majority of the population, this remedy arguably carries the stigma that a couple already plans for future disintegration, thus undermining the major element of dedication in marriage. On the opposite extreme of the spectrum, we may reconcile our biological needs through an abolition of the institution of monogamous marriage and instead embrace a polyamory reform movement, in which individuals engage in more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. A handful of people in our society embrace this legally unrecognized lifestyle. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately?), this solution, if to be recognized by the legal system, seems impossible within the foreseeable future because it calls for a complete topple of the existing institution. In the end, whether we choose to maintain a complete sense of “self” through singlehood or strive to merge our identity with that of a life partner through marital union depends on a balancing of the benefits and risks of each lifestyle. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to our own happiness to ponder the full extent of each choice’s consequences, instead of blindly following the orders of society.

  • I think this is a draft before the draft, as it were: it seems to me to have collected in one place many of your thoughts, along with some relatively familiar statements that one would hesitate to characterize as thoughts. But there's not much structure of flow or development given to these thoughts, no thesis, no development of the idea through multiple stages of explanation, no real conclusion. I think the most important step to the improvement of the paper is to ascertain what your most significant idea is, in your view: the point you want to convince people of. Then the essay should be reorganized around that theme.

It's a little bit misleading to simply state that "approximately 40% to 50% of couples divorce" and leave it at that. This New York Times article paints a significantly more complicated picture. Most relevantly:

"The highest rate of divorce in the 2001 [Census Bureau] survey was 41 percent for men who were then between the ages of 50 to 59, and 39 percent for women in the same age group."

and, most relevantly for us:

"for college graduates, the divorce rate in the first 10 years of marriage has plummeted to just over 16 percent of those married between 1990 and 1994 from 27 percent of those married between 1975 and 1979.

About 60 percent of all marriages that eventually end in divorce do so within the first 10 years, researchers say. If that continues to hold true, the divorce rate for college graduates who married between 1990 and 1994 would end up at only about 25 percent, compared to well over 50 percent for those without a four-year college degree."

I think your paper might be more useful in advancing the conversation if it addressed the complexity of the situation head-on, or perhaps focused more directly on the state of marriage within a certain group within the broader "Americans". Though bearing the same name, "marriage" means something completely different for a couple of 19 year olds who never go to college than it does for 27 year old professionals.

-- MichaelDreibelbis - 01 Apr 2009

The divorce rate is very confusing metric to get a handle on since we don't know what is the base. It is not fair to compare divorce rate per capita since there is a wide difference between the population composition of each country. A country with a large number of 20-30 year old may have a lower divorce rate per capita since the couple may not have gotten to that point. Other possible base population could be the number of new marriages, etc. Depending on what divorce rate you are referring to, you end up with different number and ranking.

-- XinpingZhu - 02 Apr 2009

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" on the next line:

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r2 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:28:47 - IanSullivan
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