What If Couples Signed a Baby Contract?

I have never been a fan of prenuptial agreements. It seems as if the couples signing them are already planning for the marriage to fail. But it occurs to me that maybe something in writing could help when it comes to deciding whether or not to have children. A lot of the people who comment at this blog tell me their mates said one thing when they were courting and another when they started getting serious about making babies. Either they led their partner to believe they would be happy to procreate or they told them they weren’t interested. Then they did a complete 180 and changed their minds. People change their minds. God knows I can’t even make a firm decision on what to eat at a restaurant until I’m forced to choose one thing or the other.

But what if part of getting legally married included a written agreement about having children. Yes, I solemnly promise to make babies with you or no, we both agree that our marriage will not include children. What do you think? What could be done to make it binding?

Let me tell you a story. My first husband and I got married in the Catholic church. We were required to attend classes for a few months at St. Lucy’s. At some point, we signed a lot of papers. I’m certain one of those papers included a statement that we would gladly accept children as a gift from God and raise them in the Catholic faith. For me, that was the plan all along. For my ex, who went to church maybe twice in the eight years we were together, if it got us closer to getting these classes over with, why not? It turned out he didn’t want children and threatened to leave me if I got pregnant. That written promise meant nothing.

When our marriage fell apart for other reasons, I was able to obtain an annulment from the church on the basis of his refusal to have children. It wasn’t the only grounds I submitted. I may have told them he was nuts. But they went with the no-babies clause. The annulment freed me to get married again in the church. Wouldn’t you know my next husband would be a divorced Presbyterian, but that’s another story.

Most prenuptial agreements focus on money and what happens to it if the couple splits up. The laws differ in every state and country, and maybe whether or not to have children falls outside the realm of a prenup, but what if couples did agree about children, in writing? What if violation were grounds for divorce? What if the party who changed his/her mind had to pay the other person a large sum of money? I’m just thinking out loud, but join me in thinking about this. What if you had to make a decision and not turn back? I’m not talking about when someone proves to be physically unable to have children, just about people who change their minds, leaving their spouses in a mess of heartbreak?

What do you think? I really want your comments on this.

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Annulment offers comfort in childless divorce

Is a marriage doomed if one partner wants children and the other doesn’t? That’s the question we talked about in last week’s blog. I want to pursue the subject a little farther.
As most of you know, I was married twice. The first marriage ended in divorce, and my second husband died in 2011. I didn’t have children with either husband.
My first husband never said anything about not wanting children until well into the marriage. As we prepared for marriage in the Catholic church, we signed papers saying we would welcome children. But once we were married, he kept saying, “Not yet.” Then, when I thought I might be pregnant, he showed his true colors. “If you’re pregnant, I’m leaving,” he told me. Well, I wasn’t pregnant, and the marriage fell apart about a year later for other reasons. About six months after the divorce, I filed for an annulment in the Catholic church. That annulment was granted on the grounds that my ex refused to have children with me. In the eyes of the church, it was not a valid marriage.
The annulment process was relatively easy compared to the divorce. I paid $300 and submitted written testimony, backed up with testimony from my parents and my brother, gave it all to my priest and eventually received a letter in the mail from the archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco giving me the verdict. My ex was given the opportunity to give his side of the story, but he declined. I shed a few tears when I saw our full real names in that letter saying our marriage was invalid, but now I was free to marry again. The annulment process gave me validation that my desire to have children was right and good, that I did not have to suffer for my husband’s sin.
So now I could start over. I could marry someone else and have children. But it didn’t work out that way. My second husband, Fred, told me up front that the three kids he had from his first marriage were enough. He had had a vasectomy because he didn’t want to have any more babies. Although I suffered from a bit of denial—surely a miracle will happen and I’ll still have kids—I married him. He was not Catholic, and because he was divorced, we were not allowed to get married in the Catholic Church. There would be no annulment to rescue me if I regretted my choice.
Over the years, I often wished I could have children, but I never wanted to trade Fred for someone else. I didn’t have children with him, but I did get the support I needed to pursue my writing and music, and I did become a stepmother to his three children. He loved me like no one had ever loved me. Those are important things, huge gifts. He gave me a wonderful life. There was no breach of promise with Fred. No surprise.
In reading comments from men and women who declare themselves childfree, I find that many would end a relationship if their loved one wanted children. To them, it is worse to be saddled with an unwanted child than to lose their partner or spouse. What if Fred had said, “You want babies, so we’re going to have to break up”? Or if I had said, “Sorry, I’m going to look for somebody else.” What a loss that would have been for both of us.
What if my first husband had been honest about not wanting children? Our relationship was always troubled. But would I have had the sense to go find someone else? I was only 20 when we met. My whole life could have been different. But I wouldn’t have met Fred.
We don’t know what this life is going to bring, but when God sends us someone wonderful, should we send them away?
I would love to hear your thoughts.