Reform The Marriage Act Now!

Dear Premier Kathleen Wynne or is it Minister of Agriculture Wynne?

When are you going to start delving into real agriculture issues that affects real Agriculture? 

If you want to actually do something for agriculture, then you would deal with the marriage act immediately.  If you don’t, more farms will go broke over the next decade from issues spiraling from divorce than the number of farm bankruptcies over the past 100 years altogether. 

Although Agriculture is a conservative society, the number of cases of divorce are skyrocketing.  Soon close to 50% of farmers will be faced with the possibility of divorce and this will have a profound impact on the financial viability of the Agriculture industry. 

Dividing a farm’s assets is much different than a factory working splitting assets such as the house, car and kids.  It’s a family business which took generations to build a capital base and after division, simply becomes economically unviable for future success. 

Prenuptial agreements in themselves aren’t air tight.  Within the same day, one lawyer will argue both for and against the same type of prenuptial.  But the bigger issue that hasn’t been addressed is the dynamics that a signed prenuptial and also an unsigned prenuptial creates.  If a bride signs a prenuptial then it often makes her feel detached from the family.  If she doesn’t sign a prenuptial then her in-laws will live in fear that she will divorce and take half of the farm.  For either case, with many families this is a serious unspoken problem that is ripping families and family businesses apart. 

This fear creates more fears. 

Is it right that a spouse is entitled to half of his/her partner’s assets seconds after the wedding ceremony?  No!  However, what is even worse is the way pre-nup agreements are splitting families or the way that THE FEAR of divorce is splitting family relationships to the point it’s CATALYZING divorces. 

Over the past several years, we’ve had a very prosperous agriculture economy for most industry sectors.    However, corn has fallen from $7/bu to $3.80 and over the next several years it might be tight.  .  I fear that many of these farms will fail once economic conditions change.  You can’t write a check for half the value of a business without increasing the value of the business expect future success during tight times.  This is especially in an industry where the Return On Assets (ROA) is less than 5% on average.  Many farms are financially over extended due to divorce and any interest rate jump could seriously impact the viability of these debt burdened farms.

If farm families catch up to the societal norm of over 50% probability of divorce and there are multiple partners within the farm, it is a situation which could affect almost every family:   

  1. Is it right that a man or women gets half of the spouse’s assets two minutes after marriage?  No!

  2. Is it right that a woman is forced into signing an air tight and yet ridiculous prenuptial agreement three days before the wedding, only to be forced onto a country road with nothing 15 years later?  No! 

  3. Is it right that a wife doesn’t feel part of a farm family because she has signed a prenuptial agreement and thus emotionally detaches from both the family and the farm?  No?  Does this have more of an economic impact than ever before considered to the success of the family farm?  Yes!

  4. Does this spiral a culture of distrust and hatred between in-laws and newlyweds?  Absolutely.  Is it sick that grandparents barely hold their grandchildren due to this mistrust caused by prenuptials?  Extremely!   Have I seen this happen, all spurning from the day the prenuptials brought up?  Yes! 

  5. Is it right that a succession planner has to ask the wife to sign a prenuptial agreement five years after the wedding in order to get family assets into her husband’s name?  No!  Does it happen?  Yes!  For many families, it is the only way that the family’s assets can be transferred into their kid’s name. 

  6. How many farms with mature adults managing the farm have not started the farm succession process because of the parent’s fears of divorce?  Many. Way too many!  How many marriages are being strained to the point of divorce by the stress of farm succession due to the parent’s fears of a divorce?   Many!   How many grown men own nothing after 20 years of hard work because of this fear of divorce, only to have his life work divided up and sold to non-farming siblings?  Many! 

  7. How many farm kids are not growing up on the family farm because of a messy divorce?  Many!   

  8. How many family patriarchs have told their son that it took 3+ generations to build up the family’s farm and it’s not going to be put out of business because “you can’t manage your wife”?  How many women live in fear of leaving the farm due to concerns about domestic violence or a even worse, Tony Terpstra type of paid assassination?  More than you’d think.  It’s a serious unspoken problem! 

  9. How many sons/daughters (like me) are not going into farming because of a fear of their parent’s divorcing or the uncertainty that the environment brings to a business’s future.  How many sons don’t talk to their parents due to the issues created by a divorce and the son’s future livelihood?

  10. How many farms will be affected in 15 years by the economic impacts of this social phenomenon unless something is done by our rural politicians?  More than you can count.   

I know that the issue of divorce is something that affects non-agrarian society as well.  However, the capital at stake took generations to build and without that capital the businesses simply won’t exist.  The land will continue to be farmed, but by larger farms whom will put less into the local economy and the social fabric of Rural Ontario. 

This isn’t just an issue of the family farm but represents many issues had by small family business owners.  The issue isn’t the farmers, it’s the politicians whom don’t reform the laws.  Without reasonable laws, chaos comes into play.  Because politicians are afraid of “opening a can of worms” many families will live in strife! 

Part of getting married should include an exit strategy clearly spelled out.  It should be a simple document with multiple choice options to ~10 common issues of divorce dispute (ex. Division of assets).  Each couple can select what option works for them.  It should be a fourth document that is signed at the time of the wedding ceremony and is signature by two witnesses.  Thus it’s clearly spelled out without being awkward like a prenuptial agreement.  It’s an exit strategy and will prevent many headaches.

Having an exit strategy clearly defined will help couples focus on repairing their relationships during legal separation rather than focus on the battle of “who gets what”.  It eliminates many fears and enables everyone to focus on making the marriage work.  It will actually save many marriages.