Have you heard? Britney Spears filed for divorce today, citing irreconcilable differences with her husband.
News travels fast. I heard about it in the grocery store. As I waited in line to pay for my items, I overheard this conversation between a mother and her grade-school-age daughter:
MOM: I heard Britney is dumping Kevin Federline. Won't that make you happy if it's true?
DAUGHTER: Yeah--I hope she does dump him!
"Dumping." I'd never before heard that word substituted for "divorce."
Living in Los Angeles, near the heart of the entertainment industry, divorce is about as normal as breakups between teenagers. It's not uncommon around here for a marriage to last a few months, or even a few days.
In honor of Britney and K-Fed's dissolution, and the fact today is election day, I offer these modest suggestions to the U.S. government and all you voters. I'll collectively call them Proposition M:
1) Instead of applying for a marriage license, couples who intend to marry would file an "Intent for Lifelong Partnership" application. For the purposes of taxes, power of attorney, property rights, etc., the U.S. government would not yet recognize the couple as being married. Businesses, however, would recognize partners as dependents. Thus, businesses would offer benefits to their employee's dependent throughout the Intent for Lifelong Partnership application process. One-time filing fee: $10.
2) Each subsequent year, couples would file for an extension on their "Intent for Lifelong Partnership" application. The U.S. government would continue to view them as two individuals who were working toward marital partnership, and would not extend any marital rights or obligations to the couple. Annual filing fee: $25.
3) During the second year of the couple's application process, and before the start of the third year, they additionally would need to undergo the following medical tests: a general physical, full blood chemistry, chest X-ray, screen for AIDS and common STDs, and a psychiatric evaluation. Test results would be made available to their partners, as well as filed with the federal government. Why? So couples would begin to learn disclosure and trust. And because the U.S. government says so. Fee to file lab results: $50.
4) During the third year of the couple's application process, and before the start of the fourth year, the couple would be required to have a pre-marriage sabbatical--to spend a total of three consecutive weeks apart from each other. This allows the couple time to contemplate their resolve for the Lifelong Partnership, and if the partnership is legitimate, will result in a greater appreciation for each other and a longing for one another during the time apart. Affidavits to verify time was spent apart would need to be filed within 30 days of the end of the sabbatical. Filing fee: $100.
5) After the fourth year, but before the start of the fifth year of partnership, the couple must file an "Intent to Stay Together Forever" application, in addition to their Intent for Lifelong Partnership extension. Filing fee: $150.
6) Within 60 days of the fifth anniversary of the original filing of the Intent for Lifelong Partnership application, the couple must submit to a Proof of Authentic Relationship interview, to be conducted by an authorized U.S. government marriage officer. Additionally, the couple must present documents to authenticate their relationship, such as joint financial holdings, life insurance documents showing each other as the beneficiary, photos of their relationship, affidavits from friends and family stating the couple was indeed legitimate, and personal material such as love letters and birthday cards. Interview fee: $250.
7) After completing all application requirements, the couple would file for a Marriage License within 30 days of the sixth anniversary of their original Intent for Lifelong Partnership filing date. The union would then be recognized as a "Marriage" by federal, state, and local government, and be subject to the privileges and obligations of full married status. At this point, the couple could request tax deductions for dependents born or adopted during the Intent for Lifelong Partnership application process. Marriage License fee: $500.
8) Once a Marriage is granted, it would not be dissolvable except in cases of "spousal abuse" (to be defined and decided by the courts). However, couples may file a "Divorce" application at any time for any reason, with the understanding they would be subject to stiff financial penalties. Divorce application fee: 50 percent of the couple's net worth.
Fiscal Effects: There's a reason for the progressive fee increases in my fictional Proposition M: Divorce is expensive. Researcher David Schramm has estimated divorce (and its direct and indirect economic consequences) costs the United States government $33.3 billion per year, or $312 per household. So I figure if folks want to make a vow, they can put their money where their mouth is! Potential financial impact: If celebrities continue to divorce at their current rate, and are assessed the 50 percent net-worth fine, the U.S. national debt would be completely erased in 8 years--sooner if Brangelina ties and unties the knot (just kiddin').
Think Proposition M sounds ridiculous? Except for the last bit about divorce penalties, the above requirements were inspired by real laws: the U.S. government's "Fiance Visa," a process required for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to marry a foreign national. Except it can take a lot longer to complete the Fiance Visa process and costs a whole lot more. The process includes many applications, many fees, many tests, time spent apart, deadlines, and personal probing. I know it, because my husband and I went through it. (We even sent the government handmade cards we'd made for each other from our first Valentine's Day together. Sadly, they weren't returned.)
My husband and I are still together--we've been married six years. We joke that we've outlasted most Hollywood couples. We did have a lot of time to think about marriage while we were filling out applications and standing in line at immigration offices. But a lengthy, government-saturated application process isn't necessary to restore marriage to its old glory. It's thought--teaching youngsters to use their God-given brains--and good ol' fashion commitment that will breathe new life into marriage.
Our country is at arms over the issue of same-sex marriage; some say this would destroy the institution. But when I hear a mom and her daughter referring to marriage--even Britney Spears' sickly little union--as "dumping," it seems marriage may already be on its deathbed. Britney Spears fans are cheering her decision to leave Kevin Federline. On the evening news, I heard one magazine interviewer praising her decision as a great career move. Many media outlets have said Britney and Kevin's marriage was already over from the start.
Maybe we need to be more concerned about how future generations view marriage as temporary. Maybe we need to cheer on married couples--especially celebrities--who hang in there. Maybe we need to make divorce a less viable option.
Or maybe we really do need a Proposition M.
1) How do you define marriage? What are your views about divorce?
2) Do you think celebrity marriages/divorces influence the general population's views on these subjects?
3) Write your own Proposition M. To do this, consider the ideas you'd like to get across (example: marriage should be a lifelong commitment). Then come up with a set of rules/laws you believe would help spread your ideas about marriage.
4) Aside from creating federal laws about marriage, what are some ways to save the institution? What can you do personally? How can you influence young people?
5) It seems young people don't hear much honest talk about marriage or divorce. If you've been through a divorce, do you often talk to your kids and younger people you have influence over about it? What do you say? If you find yourself at a loss for words, consider these questions: How did you feel through the divorce? What have you learned? If you could change something about your marriage or divorce, what would it be? Looking back at the marriage and divorce, what would you do differently?