Bring Back Concubinage!

Until they were purged by the Medieval Catholic Church, many western cultures had marriage alternatives -- legal, contractual, long-term relationships within which children could be reared but which were not until-death-do-us-part marriage.  Ironically, Church father Augustine had a child in just such a relationship.**  Reading articles like this one, it strikes me that it is time for some modern innovation here.

We are in a position where we have just two alternatives -- marriage, which is a full-blown legal merger of two people into one for what is theoretically life -- and nothing.  Given the rise of childbearing in these no-long-term-commitment-whatsoever relationships, the state has taken a few halting actions to bridge the gap, but most of these have been ham-fisted and fraught with problems (our efforts to impose financial responsibility on fathers is one example).

If this were a market, I would say that there is clearly a consumer demand for an alternative product that fits between marriage and nothing, and allows two people to make long-term commitments to child rearing without necessarily commingling assets or making lifetime sexual monogamy vows.


** At the time, such concubinage relationships were often to satisfy class issues -- people of certain classes simply were not allowed to marry each other.  In Augustine's case, it allowed him to pursue a 15-year relationship with a woman who was not wealthy but left him available to marry when a rich woman later came along.  In short, it was used for reasons that are mostly irrelevant today.  But that doesn't mean we can't invent marriage alternatives of our own for our own modern reasons.


  1. Mole1:

    Does your wife know about this?

  2. August Hurtel:

    Well, we have business partnerships, power of attorney, etc... The marriage license opens you to the predation of the divorce industry and provides you with no protection. It is a tragedy that Christian clerics continue to insist Christians get marriage licenses these days, but I digress- I think it may be possible to do something creative here.

  3. Mom Meyer:

    Hey, Mole 1, I was just going to ask the same thing.

  4. bloke in france:

    France has some variable geometry marriage laws. Including "concubinage". Makes no difference to the rate of abandoned children, messy divorces, or the general happiness of french people compared to other nations and faiths.

  5. ColoComment:

    Given today's prevalence of divorce and remarriage, and the heartbreak that goes along with the fracturing of the "for life" ideal, my idea was to have renewable monogamous sequential marriages. You'd marry for a period certain, say 10 years, renewable by mutual agreement for successive periods, and with exit provisions (for splitting of assets/liabilities, support of children, etc.) included for dissolution if not renewed. So you'd know going into it what you'd take if you exited.

    Neither party would have any guarantee that the other would WANT to renew, and might therefore work a bit harder at its success. Each would understand going into it that if the other wanted to terminate it at the end of the then-current period, there should be no recriminations and anger because no one was under any apprehension that it would last any longer. One idea for support of children born during that particular marriage would be perhaps a trust funded over the course of that time for the sole benefit of the child(ren).

    I dunno. Marriage is a personal partnership, and (apart from religious, romantic, etc., factors) should be treated with at least equal importance and consideration as we give to a business partnership.

    'Course, business partnerships fail, too, but at least if the partnership agreement is well drawn (there would still be work for lawyers!) the parting should be with "sweet sorrow."

  6. ECM:

    Hey, just because it doesn't work is no reason not to do it anyway!


  7. tmitsss:

    Paging Bob Heinlein, Paging Bob Heinlein

  8. randian:

    Given the financial insanity of modern child support laws, why would you ever sign up for this?

  9. McThag:

    That just means we should do it MORE and HARDER!

  10. David:

    What could possibly go wrong?

  11. Sue Smith:

    Agree that something creative is needed. The State is the least qualified entity I can imagine to regulate "marriage" if marriage is seen as a holy bond. Our marriage is an agreement between my spouse and me. Everyone else can pound sand if they don't like how we do things, including The State and The Church. Maybe there are two separate things, marriage for religious folks and civil unions for those who want/feel they need Nanny State to "protect" them. And they could both apply to some unions.
    It is entertaining to watch the various factions attempt to impose their views on others. Human nature in its many childish flavors is the best show going.

  12. FelineCannonball:

    Between prenups and business arrangements I'm really not sure what consenting adults can't do today. Unless you want to file joint tax returns or something.

  13. TeleprompterOTUS:

    I think men should be the default custodial parent of boys born out of wedlock and women for girls born out of wedlock. That would place children with the parent best able to raise them (generally) and give the girls reason to not want to have children so readily.

  14. David Zetland:

    Welcome to northern Europe, where registered partner is the norm