The (Open) Marriage Contract

If you design your marriage as a business, what does the contract look like?

married couple signing contract milaphotos / Shutterstock

Our hero gets engaged to the girl of his dreams, a friend of a friend who just so happens to hate the concept of marriage, and who prefers the convenience of an open relationship. Here is how the "marriage contract" materialized.

As a freelance journalist, I'm constantly on the lookout for good ideas. Sometimes they come to me in the middle of a shower, or during a walk. But not so long ago, the woman I refer to alternately as my "life partner" or my fiancée, Carrie, stumbled upon an especially bright idea after becoming the unfortunate recipient of an early morning death threat from her then-boyfriend.


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The couple's six-year-long relationship had clearly been on its last legs for some time, but their latest ongoing argument—he had borrowed $16,000 from her, but harbored no intention to repay—had been turning increasingly vicious.

"If you come after me for your money," he told her one morning, after returning from a week-long Caribbean vacation, "I'll kill you. I'll put you in a hole!"

And that was when Carrie realized something awful: She was most likely never going to see her money again. After all, did she really want to take him to court after a threat like that?


And besides, the two had never gotten married, so what legal ground did she have to stand on? They did own a home together. But a Common Law Marriage defense probably wouldn't help, because they also had an open relationship. In fact, Carrie had been spending more nights at my house lately than she had at her own. Legally speaking, she was screwed.

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After a few months had passed, Carrie and I made the decision to spend the rest of our lives together.

But because we've decided to do so without getting legally married (see Marriage Without Monogamy), a prenuptial agreement is obviously out of the question. And yet neither one of us likes the idea of building a life together without any sort of financial protection, especially after that harrowing ordeal with the ex, who, by the way, still hasn't bothered to return Carrie's $16,000.


And that's to say nothing of her furniture and art collection, which is worth many thousands of dollars more and is today sitting unused in a self-storage facility. Guess who has the only key? (Hint: Not us.)

I suppose there's more than a little irony in the very conservative solution Carrie and I eventually settled on, which was to launch a holding company—an organization, in other words, that will exist purely for the purpose of "holding" the goods and monies we've chosen to co-own as a couple. (In the instance of a breakup, the company will be split 50-50.)

Carrie, after all, is a graphic designer who took a grand total of two business classes during her art school days. I'm a former rock critic who still occasionally eats cereal for dinner.

And being that we're both self-employed, we've each been known to work in our pajamas for days at a stretch. I suppose the point I'm trying to make here is that I didn't have the slightest idea what a holding company was until I eventually looked it up on Wikipedia.


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And just for the record: As of this writing, we haven't actually gotten around to filing the papers that will make our company legal. And yet the idea itself has already proven to be profitable, at least in the realm of friendly conversation; everyone we've spoken to about our company seems fascinated, if also a little confused: So… instead of getting married, you're starting a business? Oh-kay.

But I won't kid myself. I imagine that at some point in the near future, I'll explain our alternative marriage arrangement to someone who will laugh and look down on us.

Someone who will assume that because we're refusing to become members of the status quo marriage culture, we must be dreamers, and therefore foolish and destined to fail. And when that happens, I'll tell that person the very same thing Carrie told me when I asked her to explain, in the simplest way possible, what this crazy idea meant to her.


"The mission of the company," she said, "is our success as a couple. So we took something that commonly breaks up marriages—which is finances and money—and we basically turned it into a little project. It's fun!"

Imagine that! A marriage and a business, and both of them fun. I think we might just be onto something.

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Dan Eldridge is a Lonely Planet guidebook writer, the author of Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh (Avalon Travel), and the publisher of Young Pioneers, a magazine about creative entrepreneurs. He lives in Philadelphia, check out his website.