Love-by-Contract

Love-By-Contract by Sandy Balick

{4:00 minutes to read} Most of my posts are occupied with divorce-related mediation topics. Divorce mediations are ultimately focused on giving birth to a contract: the settlement or separation agreement. But, on the other end of the spectrum, contracts may be powerful guides to relationship building and preservation, regardless of marital status.

Prompted by a recent newspaper item on relationship contracts, I thought it was timely to share some thoughts on the notion of love-by-contact.

Admittedly, the phrase is sort of chilling, bordering on the salacious. But it’s important to recall that our laws very much consider marriage and divorce in a contractual context, viewing marriages as financial partnerships as well as romantic ones. These very notions drive the manner in which our laws dictate, for instance, how children are to be supported and the way in which property is to be divided in the event of a marital break-up.

This brings us to Mandy and Mark. Writing in the June 25, 2017, “Modern Love” column in the Sunday New York Times, writer Mandy Len Catron describes how she and her boyfriend, Mark, maintain a Relationship Contract (capitals, theirs) subject to annual renewal and adjustment. In addition to addressing the “minutiae of domesticity,” the document also incorporates aspirational goals and keeps the prospect of future marriage on their agenda. Although they both sign the document, it would not be likely, at least in New York, to rise to the level of formality so as to render it legally enforceable.

But, in an important way, formality seems beside the point here. In their immediate universe, reciprocal trust and candor displace any need of notarial formalities. Catron credits her inspiration for the relationship agreement to the book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels by two Californians, therapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson — it’s now on my reading list.

Mark and Mandy’s arrangement is a kind of next-door neighbor to another kind of living agreement referred to as a cohabitation agreement. These represent a more formal approach to the notion of love-by-contract. Aimed at legal enforceability, these contracts may incorporate considerations similar to those addressed in pre- and post-nuptial agreements, such as post–relationship financial security.

The process of achieving contractual formality may be off-putting to many. Formal contracts may involve the participation of lawyers and other professionals, and negotiations can strike some as a heartless business deal, although important or complex financial concerns may warrant this more formal approach. In these situations, the mediation process may be useful in moderating the deal-making sense of this form of contracting.

Still, there’s much to be said for the Mandy and Mark approach – their arrangement has served them well and may serve as a helpful inspiration to others. The sense of creating one’s own contract, and feeling bound to it out of a strong sense of interpersonal commitment, provides a powerful bonding element. It’s even possible to fold important financial considerations into the mix by consulting accountants, financial planners, and lawyers to get a sense of the important things to include. Enforceability features should not be dismissed lightly, but for many, personal commitment is powerfully self-enforcing.

Sanford (Sandy) Balick, Attorney & Mediator, NY Sandy Balick signature
Sanford E. Balick, Esq.
Founder & Principal Mediator
Consensus Point Mediation, LLC.

Phone: (646) 340-3434
Email: ConsensusPointLLC@gmail.com
www.ConsensusPointMediation.com
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