My tongue is only half way in my cheek as I write this. There are probably some “Constitutional” difficulties with the proposal I am about to make, but the location of the intersection of family law and constitutional law is fuzzy at best. If it makes the life of the average family law practitioner easier, I am all for it.
In parentage cases there is the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (“VAP”) form. The VAP requires certain disclosures to be made to the father who is signing. The law requires certain content to be included and certain warnings to be given in bold and enormous font. The VAP-signing father that claims he did not know he would have to pay child support or that he had the right to genetic paternity testing can be dismissed as either a liar or an illiterate. When that guy comes into your office, with certain exceptions of course, the first thing you say is “You signed the form. You knew what it said. What do you expect me to do about it?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a similar form that both spouses are required to sign before obtaining a marriage license? Let’s call it a Mandatory Acknowledgement of Marital Responsibilities (“MAMR”) form. Every time an outraged husband says “You mean I need to pay her lawyer?” or “You mean she gets half of my pension?” you can just point to the MAMR. Every time an over-protective mother who objects to parenting time says “But my child has never spent a night away from me,” you can show her the form. The MAMR will be an improvement over the primary arrow we have in our quiver which is “I know it seems unfair, but I did not write the law.” The “I did not write the law” answer gets you off the hook, but does not completely shift the responsibility for the client’s predicament back where it belongs. “You married him” also helps, but it is not enough. We need something in writing.
Divorce lawyers never pay attention to it, but Part II of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act is titled “Marriage.” Section 203 is titled “License To Marry.” I propose that Section 203 be amended to require a MAMR to be executed prior to any marriage license being issued. The law should require, at a minimum, the following warnings:
- It is much more difficult to get unmarried than it is to get married.
- You may need to pay maintenance to your spouse.
- You may need to pay your spouse’s attorneys’ fees.
- Your lawyer will not work for free.
- You may be required give half of the pension that YOU earned to your spouse.
- It doesn’t matter that your spouse is the world’s biggest (FILL IN THE BLANK).
- You will (pay more) (not receive as much) child support than you think is fair.
- A therapist is cheaper than a lawyer.
The above list is not exhaustive. The good news is that there is probably a fair amount of time between now and when the MAMR becomes law. Great ideas are rarely recognized during their creator’s lifetime. I suggest you keep your own list and when some inspired legislator introduces the MAMR bill, you can chime in with your suggestions.