Sign a marriage contract? Better get an agent first

January 14, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Mike Royko is on vacation. In his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This column was originally published on June 2, 1978. It's time for another column devoted to helping young men solve their romantic and marital problems. As I explained when I began offering this occasional service, many of today's young men are in need of mature, wise counseling if they are to avoid a lifetime of overdue bills, lawn mowers, dope-ridden offspring and other distractions.

Today's problem comes from a young man who is planning on marrying soon, but he faces an increasingly common question among young people -- whether to sign a marriage contract.

As he explained: "The girl I am going to marry wants us to have a separate contract spelling out how we share domestic duties, the raising of the children, and requiring mutual agreement on such things as where we will live, how we will spend our money, where we will go on vacations, and so on.

"She has a better job than I have, and it has a better future, so she wants the contract to say that if we have children, the partner with the better income will work while the other one takes care of the home and kids.

"At first, I thought it was the fair thing to do because I had read about how a lot of couples are doing it. My girl showed me an article in Ms. magazine that told why marriage contracts work and I thought it made sense. But now I'm getting worried. I don't know much about legal matters. When I buy things, I usually don't bother to look at the fine print, or even the big print if the thing I'm buying looks OK.

"So how do I know what I'm getting into? I don't know if I could take care of a house and kids. I want to marry her, but don't even know enough about law to be sure if some of the things in the contract are for my benefit or hers. What do I do?"

The first thing you must do is try to avoid a contract. Give her a firm handshake and tell her: "Look, if you can't trust the man you're going to marry, who can you trust? Let's just shake on it like gentlepersons."

But that probably won't work, since she wouldn't be asking you to sign a contract in the first place if she trusted you. In fact, if she really trusted you, she wouldn't be marrying you. She'd be content to just live together as modern best friends and racquetball partners.

The best question then, is whether you want to agree to spend the rest of your life with someone who has so little faith in you that she would treat you like a customer who walked in off the street at a loan company.

If she is this suspicious already, what is she going to be like the first time you come home at 4 a.m. and explain to her that your car broke down and you were attacked by a gang of sadistic thugs who stole your money and spilled liquor on your clothes while making little bite marks on your neck? Or the second time it happens?

She will wave the contract under your nose and scream that you are in violation of Paragraph 6, Clause 9, Line 8, as well as Paragraph 8, Clause 12, and Line 4. What will the neighbors think? And in the morning, she will probably refuse to cook your breakfast, too.

But if you feel strongly about getting it over with and marrying her, and you are willing to sign a contract, then you should make the best deal for yourself that you possibly can. To do that, I suggest that you get an agent to negotiate for you.

That's what everyone does today -- athletes, TV anchormen, authors. If they think it is prudent to have agents negotiate for them when entering a simple two-year contract to work, you definitely should have one when signing a paper that will bind you until your teeth fall in your soup.

Unfortunately, there aren't many agents specializing in negotiating marriage contracts. Agents operate on a 10 percent commission, and who can live on one-tenth of somebody else's misery?

However, in Chicago there is one agent who does this kind of work for a fee -- Mr. Loopholes Zelinski of Milwaukee Avenue, who is an expert in domestic matters, having spent more than 20 years as a bailiff in police court.

He has negotiated several marriage contracts and is a demon at getting his client extra nights out for bowling, softball, reunion parties, and in inserting penalty clauses should she gain too much weight, make a habit of oversleeping, interrupt your stories, refuse to clean the fish you catch, or fail to bring you a snack while you watch a football game.

In a case such as yours, where the possibility exists that your wife will hold a job while you take care of the house, he will demand clauses requiring her to come straight home from the office and not sit around after work in a bar getting sloshed with the women from her office, which is a growing problem in our society. Also, he will insist that you be permitted to go to school in the afternoon and take self-fulfillment courses, so you don't turn into a household frump-person.

That is my advice. The only other option you might consider is to tell her that you want to take a little more time to read over the contract for typographical errors.

Then draw your money out of the bank, pack a bag, buy a plane ticket, fly to Nice in the south of France, take a cab to an outdoor cafe that overlooks the beach, order a carafe of the local rose wine, and invite someone named Gigi or Brigette or Denise to join you. Ask her if she believes in handshakes.

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