As divorce rates remain high and marriage rates remain low, some suggest rethinking the institution and proposing trial runs, which would allow spouses to end their marriage after two years, if they aren't satisfied, and not have to go through a divorce.
However, therapists and religious leaders contend these so-called "beta marriages" offer no real benefit, since neither spouse has to put forth the effort to make a serious, long-term commitment.
"The point of getting married is to stop testing the relationship itself, to stop asking whether your current partner is right for you. The time for questioning, putting one another on trial, holding back one’s full commitment, is called dating," wrote Anna Sutherland, an author for the Institute for Family Studies.
About half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Only 26 percent of millennials (18- to 34-year-olds) are married, according to Pew Research Center. An informal survey of 1,000 18- to 49-year-olds by USA Today asked respondents whether they would think more favorably of marriage if the institution was updated to fit with modern values. Forty-three percent of millennials surveyed said they supported the idea of beta marriages.
In terms of new technology or websites, beta testing is the stage in which all the bugs or glitches are found and fixed before the release of the finished product to the general public. Advocates of beta marriage support a similar trial period after the wedding to give the couple a chance to work out their own bugs.
Time magazine explained: "When it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO (fear of missing out), isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?"
Mexico City, which also has a 50 percent divorce rate, attempted to pass a reformation of civil code in 2011 that would grant newlyweds "temporary marriage licenses," according to Reuters. The couple would have chosen an amount of time, minimum two years, to try being married. At the end of the period, the marriage contract would either be renegotiated to continue the relationship or it would dissolve. The contract would also dictate how property is to be divided in the case of a dissolution, similar to a prenuptial agreement.
"The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends," Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill, told Reuters. "You wouldn't have to go through the tortuous process of divorce."
The proposal, which ended up not passing, was unpopular, especially among conservatives and religious groups, according to The Week.
"This is a proposal made by people who do not understand the nature of marriage," Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Catholic Church's archdiocese of Mexico City, was quoted as saying in the Associated Press. "It is not a commercial contract; it is a contract between two people for a life project and the creation of a family."
Apart from the moral and legal complications that would likely accompany the introduction of beta marriages, those who participate may be less likely to fully commit to the relationship if they knew they could easily leave, just as with cohabitation. According to the Berkeley Science Review, research from the Journal of Family Psychology and other sources have found an increased risk of negative consequences for couples who lived together before engagement or marriage. A pre-marriage test run seems to offer little benefit to the couples.
"The most recent research suggests that serial cohabitators, couples with differing levels of commitment and those who use cohabitation as a test are most at risk for poor relationship quality and eventual relationship dissolution," Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, said in a New York Times op-ed.
Whether or not beta marriage is a viable solution to the rising divorce rates and lowering marriage rates, couples will continue to do what they think is best for them, according to an article on Jezebel.
"Basically, like every other generation, millennials are going to approach marriage with their unique goals and expectations in mind. Marriage is already a lot of work, no need to make it complicated as well," the article continues.