This is the question that, sooner or later, all couples ask themselves.
Marriage and P.A.C.S.
The status of cohabitants, for instance, does not confer any specific right to the concubines, except for a right to damages for “wrongful termination”: if, due to the fault of their partner, one of the cohabitants suffers any financial, physical or moral damage, the court may recognise a right to compensation for such damage. In practice, the abandoned cohabitee loses everything: the break-up, in itself, unless it is “vexatious”, does not confer any right to compensation.
With the Civil Solidarity Pact (in French “P.A.C.S.”), the rights of the partners – we are not yet talking about spouses – are more important than in a free union and it is for this reason that the “PACS” is now seriously competing with marriage.
The “PACS” gives legal and administrative existence to the couple: among other advantages, it allows the couple to be taxed in a single tax household for income tax and local taxes and also allows one partner to benefit from the other’s social insurance. It could also be seen as an advantage that the separation of “pacsed” couples, unlike that of married couples, is a mere formality, which corresponds well to the precarious and ephemeral nature of our society today.
Marriage also means protection of the weaker party
But marriage is still attractive, if only because it gives a certain protection to the most vulnerable member of the couple: in the event of divorce, the financially weaker party is entitled to a compensatory benefit. What is more, the superiority of marriage over “PACS” is reflected in the law applicable to inheritance: the surviving spouse always receives part of the deceased spouse’s estate as inheritance, whereas to achieve a similar result, at a much higher tax cost, the “PACS” couple must register a will. The surviving “pacsé” couple is not entitled to anything.
There are therefore always good reasons to marry and this is also true for remarriages. These usually involve older couples who have had time to accumulate personal assets or who have children of their own who could compete with the surviving partner. These couples now account for more than 20% of all marriages celebrated in France. The saying “a scalded cat fears cold water” is not always confirmed in practice.
Let’s admit it: getting married to inherit or for a tax advantage is not very romantic. To be fair we should acknowledge that 80% of couples get married for the first time: most of them are young and their personal assets do not justify taking any particular legal precautions. So why do they get married?
What love got to do with it?
Well, the answer is always “Love, love, love”, but answering “love” is reductive. What’s the big deal? What happens then when love is no longer there? Divorce and separation? It seems all too easy. In a world as complex as ours, feelings are necessary, but too often they are no longer enough…
Getting married for children?
Do you get married to have children? According to the Catholic Church, the ultimate goal of marriage is reproduction, as it is true that the sterility of one of the spouses or the refusal to have children are causes for the annulment of religious marriages, but this very “patriarchal” approach seems to turn women into “child-bearing machines” and no longer corresponds to what a modern family is.
Do we get married because we have children? Wanting to stabilise the couple and give the children a more protective environment is a coherent and praiseworthy objective, but if for one of the spouses (or both!) it means remaining entangled into an unsatisfactory relationship for twenty years, the price to pay is astronomical! And it always comes back to the same point: when the children have grown up, and you realize that share your bed with a stranger, what do you do? You split? If we were to spend a good word about this type of tragedy, we could say that “marriage is the main cause of divorce”.
Marriage and “common project”
Probably most people get married also because they have a “common project”, because they “look in the same direction”. This is clear and has the merit of being true. A couple can only exist because there is a common project for both spouses. A long-term project, not a passing fad.
Taking a closer look, this “common project” corresponds somewhat to the definition of marriage of convenience, arranged marriage, or even “marriage of interest” which was a constant feature of all marriages from Antiquity until the beginning of the 19th century, at least in the Western world.
When the individual, born in the “Century of Enlightenment”, did not yet exist, it was two families, two villages, two communities that united through the spouses. The necessarily extended families looked after the children collectively and the accidents of life were always mitigated by family solidarity.
The japanese MIAI tradition
In Japan, the practice of “MIAI”, family arranged marriages, largely abandoned since the end of the Second World War, seems to be regaining popularity: young people of marriageable age are too often busy with their work and no longer have time to meet people. So it is sometimes parents who increasingly seek out “M. or Mrs. right” and negotiate unions. These “institutional” marriages now represent only 2 to 3% of all marriages in Japan, but it is not certain that they are any less happy than so-called “love” marriages.
Marriage and social link
In an increasingly uncertain and troubled period, it is becoming necessary to recreate the long-forgotten family solidarities that have been forgotten for too long, but to do so, we must renounce a little of our individualism, this new religion of modern times. Our society is deliberately destroying this collective aspect of our lives and isolating us more and more. To what end? “Who benefits from crime?,” a crime writer would ask.
Marriage has a social function in so far as it creates bonds between persons and families, people who would otherwise never have met. Marriage is, like school, university, work, military service and religion, one of the “glues” that holds our society together. It acts as an antidote to the crumbling of social relations.
“There is no society” proudly proclaimed Ms. Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. She was wrong: our society is renewed and strengthened every time two persons decide to marry. Marriage also has a political dimension. But that’s another story…