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Could time limited marriages be in our future?

Marriage is outdated. At least that’s what one article published this week in the Globe and Mail would have you believe. Citing the ever rising divorce rate, together with a younger generation that has “abandoned committed relationships”, the author asks whether it is time that we re-think the legal framework of marriage. One possible solution proposed by the author: time limited marriages. Both parties could agree in advance to only to be married to each other for a set period of time (the author suggests 3 years). After the expiry of the time period the parties would be free to go their separate ways, no strings attached, or choose to enter into another marriage.

In the article, the author acknowledges that there are certain issues which will need to be worked out before such an arrangement could work. Would “part-time” spouses be less likely to want kids? Would it discourage the joint ownership of property? While all interesting hypothetical issues, what is not discussed is what impact such an arrangement may have on an individual’s estate planning.

Your marital status can have a significant impact not only on your estate plan, but also your rights and obligations under certain statutes. Section 16 of the Succession Law Reform Act provides that, subject to certain exceptions, a will is automatically revoked when the testator subsequently marries. If marriages are re-defined to be time sensitive, thus creating a situation where a person would theoretically become married many more times during their lifetime than is presently the case, we could see a situation where a person would constantly be having to update and re-execute their will as a result of their ever changing marital status.

The issue of what standing a “time sensitive” spouse would have in such things as a dependant’s support application would also have to be dealt with. The idea of “time sensitive” marriages has at its very core the concept that you should be able to walk away from the marriage no strings attached at the expiry of the 3 year period. If both parties agreed to be able to walk away “no strings attached”, would they also be giving up any right to claim as a dependant of that person’s estate?

Have a great weekend.

Stuart Clark