WITH Virginia’s General Assembly now rolling in high gear, maybe it is time for me to contact my representatives and ask them to introduce a bill that I believe is long overdue.

It is the marriage contract bill.

I’ve written about this issue before, but it has always been ignored. Maybe this year we can get legislators to take some action.

When baseball players sign a contract, it is for a specific period of time. Owners would be foolish to give a player a lifetime contract when he is only able to perform into his 40s.

Conversely, a player would be equally foolish to sign away his entire future when, after a couple of good years, he might be able to negotiate a better contract with a different ball club.

That’s why baseball has free agency, where after five years (unless he signs a really long-term contract) the player is free to test the waters to see if he can do better elsewhere.

If free agency works in baseball, why not in marriage? Why should a man or a woman be bound together for life if after a few years they can’t wait to get a divorce?

So, General Assembly, give us marriage contracts that expire after a set number of years. Each couple could negotiate their own term of endearment with the ability for each party to either opt out or agree to renew when that specified period expires. No divorce proceedings. No lawyers. Just don’t renew the contract and that’s that.

Yes, I know that marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, but unfortunately that’s not the way things work today. We pledge “till death do us part,” but much of the time these are just words spoken under duress. The proof, of course, is in the fact that about a quarter of all marriages wind up in divorce.

Heaven knows how many other married couples live in misery either because divorce is such a messy business or because of the financial benefits.

Marriage, in fact, already is a contract. Let’s just make it a contract that expires. If anything, that might strengthen marriages.

How? I’ve known a number of couples that lived together unmarried for years. They were as happy as larks. Then they got married and wound up divorced in as little as a year. Why?

Psychology entered the picture. While they just lived together (which I am certainly not advocating), each party knew he or she was free to walk out at any time.

Then came “till death do us part” and all of a sudden one or the other begins to feel like it’s a life sentence.

With a term marriage contract that anxiety is gone. If you’re a bit unsure, you both agree to one-year marriage with an option for a one-year extension. If you feel more committed, you could go for an initial five-year contract (with an option period) or if you’re really bold, you could shoot for 10.

Now you don’t feel as trapped. You have that legal commitment without the “forever” part. You figure you can hang in there for a year or maybe five even if the marriage turns sour. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Who knows? In a year or even five, you might work things out. Then you can renew.

Sure, there are religious issues involved, but those vows couples make in church seem to fly out the window when the participants are condemning each other in divorce court. Those whom God has joined together are too often put asunder by a judge.

With the exception of a Virginia Game Department hunting license (and these are for really old guys), I can’t think of another contract other than marriage that doesn’t have an expiration date.

If term marriage contracts become a reality, divorce lawyers shouldn’t feel threatened. They’ll still get their pound of flesh because they can help negotiate these agreements up front, with provisions about how to divide any present or future assets. They’ll just get paid now instead of later.

What about children? Any children in the forthcoming marriage will be divided up before they are born according to terms worked out beforehand. That’s no more hurtful to the kids than the way it works now.

Other provisions could be added to marriage contracts that would make them null and void prior to the expiration date.

Weight gain is one example. If either party puts on pounds past a set limit, he or she has 30 days to get them off or the marriage is over. Drinking or drug use could also void the contract.

Trust me, it would work. Instead of a lengthy divorce battle, you just go down to the clerk’s office on expiration day and say, “I’m not renewing my marriage contract.” Pay a $10 filing fee and that’s that.

If marriage is indeed a contract—and legally it always has been, then let’s move it into the 21st century.

Donnie Johnston: djohn40330@aol.com

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