Question of the Week- April 6th

Apr 6, 2016

This week’s question comes from Tristan M. Tristan asks, “It seems to me that the marriage ceremony is a fulcrum for the perpetuation of blind belief. People would like to marry and families benefit from a stated commitment. Is there a secular / non-denominational / atheist format for conducting such a union/marriage. Also who, apart from priests and clerks of the court, is authorised to say ‘by the powers vested in me, I pronounce you man and wife.’”

Our favorite answer (non repeating winners only) will receive a copy of “A Brief Candle in the Dark” by Richard Dawkins!

Here’s a hint: Our new new partner has something to say about this, and a pretty good track record too.


And please don’t forget to send in your submissions for Question of the Week! You can suggest a question by emailing us at QotW@www.richarddawkins.net. Please remember this is for “Question of the Week” only, and all other comments should go to their respective threads under the Question of the Week itself. Thank you!

26 comments on “Question of the Week- April 6th

  • I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. A ceremony at the church (Kingdom Hall) could be performed by any elder or ministerial servant, of which there were maybe a dozen total per congregation. The couple could also ask an elder/ministerial servant from a different congregation to perform.

    My point is that there is a large number of individuals who can marry them, and they usually pick someone they are close friends with. The same should be true for non-religious people. A couple should be able to pick someone they know to marry them.

    If cult leaders are qualified by the state to perform marriage ceremonies, then anyone should be qualified.



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  • Also who, apart from priests and clerks of the court, is authorised to say ‘by the powers vested in me, I pronounce you man and wife.’”

    In addition to registrars and clerks, in some countries there are HUMANIST CELEBRANTS who conduct non-religious weddings.

    https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/non-religious-weddings/

    A humanist, non-religious wedding ceremony gives you the opportunity to marry where you want, when you want and how you want. There’s no set script: it’s too personal an occasion for that. Instead, each wedding is tailored to meet the particular couple’s requirements. You can set the tone that’s right for you and choose your own words and music.

    Humanist weddings are perfect for couples who would like:

    A meaningful ceremony that isn’t religious

    To marry outdoors or at a location that isn’t licensed for civil weddings

    The flexibility to create a personal ceremony that is unique to them

    To get to know the person who will be conducting their wedding

    To celebrate their marriage with family and friends but without legally registering it – perhaps they have already undertaken the formalities overseas, for example.

    Unlike in Scotland, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, humanist weddings are not yet recognised in law and so couples often go to the register office to take care of the legal formalities in the days before or after their humanist wedding.

    https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/find-a-wedding-celebrant/

    http://humanistweddingsbymary.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/were-worried-about-our-vows-do-you-have.html

    Of course some (like one of my sons), might not be interested in big ceremonies, and may just get on with life, living with their partner and raising their children, without seeking official recognition of their trusting relationship from the state or religious authorities.



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  • Here in Holland, you have a choice; either civil or religious marriage service. We chose civil, whereby the marriage cermony is performed by a civil servant (Ususally from the town that you live in), and gets notaried in the wedding register of the state. Same procedure of registration by the church servant.
    There is also an option whereby you do not officially marry, but a registered partnership at the notary. Children’s surnames are either the partnership male or female surnames.
    Divorces are usually handled through a mediator at little to no cost (No lawyers involved) and through the mediator/notary the separation is registered in the state wedding register. Of course, if there is very much money involved, or complex situations , the ex-partners may prefer the use of lawyers.



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  • Of course some (like one of my sons), might not be interested in big ceremonies, and may just get on with life, living with their partner and raising their children, without seeking official recognition of their trusting relationship from the state or religious authorities.

    This (above) is the wave of the future. Marriage is clearly an outdated conceit in all of its weird, archaic permutations (arranged marriage, forced marriage, etc) including the most commonly known form. Contracts are for property. Women (and men) are not possessions to be kept. Commitments are just that; they are pledges, obligations, promises. They are also circumstantial and can be fluid based on those circumstances. At best there should be a minimum age requirement. If you can’t buy alcohol how on earth should you be allowed to marry? I won’t even get into the “incentives” (tax breaks, etc) given to the betrothed. There are a number of ways to work out the legal aspects that exist in domestic relationships. But I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the existence of a contract for “love”, that most malleable, slippery and elusive of states.



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  • I would give the honour of presiding at the service to the great Maddy Prior, Tim Hart sadly having died some years ago. I’d want the ceremony to be based on the pagan handfasting tradition which binds the partners for just a year and a day.
    During the course of it I would get Maddy to sing the fantastic traditional song that I first heard on Summer Solstice, the album she made with Tim, showing how marriage can further inequality:

    Sorry the day I was married
    And sorry the day I was wed
    And it’s Oh, if I only had tarried
    When I to the altar was led.

    Young William sure there’s no pleasing
    For let women do what they can
    It’s always your heart they’ll be teasing
    For that is the way of a man.

    When I was a young lass I was bonnie
    Had silks and bright jewels to wear
    And red were me cheeks like a berry
    And me heart it was free from all care.

    Silks now I have none for me wearing
    Me jewels have all gone away
    And surely this life there’s no bearing
    I’m pale as a primrose today.

    Think, pretty maids, ere you marry
    Stand fast by your sweet liberty
    And as long as you can you must tarry
    And not be lamenting like me.

    Sorry the day I was married
    And sorry the day I was wed
    And it’s Oh, if I only had tarried
    When I to the altar was led.



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  • Been married for 43 years, still together, and getting older, and in my case more atheistic than ever.
    The woman I leave with is a devoted Christian, and not a thing I can do or say about for her, to come to my side because she’s is free to be.
    Don’t to call ,, my wife ,, I always call by her name, and NEVER call or heart her in anyways, reason been that my father beat my mother constantly for 40 years, with eleven children, and with the church blessings, because it was the things to do, I saw and learned the from.
    The real so call union \ marriage should be like… the same as if the two of them were the only peoples on a deserted island, and no way out, imagine, how would they see each other?
    The way I would do it if I could do it again is.[ actually, every time we do it at every wedding we go to ]
    AS I STAND IN FRONT OF HER, EYES LOCKED, AND MENTALLY FEELING, GOING AND FALLING INTO EACH OUR MIND, AND NO TIME OR THE SURROUNDING TO CONSTRAIN US FROM IT,,,,,,,,,,, THAT’S IT.
    By doing so, no need of any type or sort of entities to bind us, and will be able to be ONE.
    Well, still have to sign somewhere to get family benefits, insurance etc.



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  • Steven007 #4
    Apr 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    . . . . might not be interested in big ceremonies, and may just get on with life, living with their partner and raising their children, without seeking official recognition of their trusting relationship from the state or religious authorities.

    This (above) is the wave of the future. Marriage is clearly an outdated conceit in all of its weird, archaic permutations (arranged marriage, forced marriage, etc) including the most commonly known form.

    I see that even in some of the most backward states, some slow progress is being made in dumping antiquated laws and attitudes!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-35983288

    Unwed couples in Florida can now legally live together

    .The US state of Florida has repealed a law that barred unmarried couples from living together.

    Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill on Wednesday that overturned the law, which dates back to 1868.

    If prosecuted, offenders faced 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, but the law was rarely enforced in modern times.

    Co-habitation laws were common in the US until the mid-20th Century. Two states – Michigan and Mississippi – still have them on the books.

    Florida lawmakers pushed for the repeal because living arrangements have changed over the years, particularly among older people.

    “I represent communities of seniors, where a lot of them are technically not married,” Representative Richard Stark told the Orlando Sentinel.

    “They are living together, but it makes more sense financially or for whatever reason like Social Security to not be married. I don’t think that they want to be considered to be violating the law.”

    The original law did not apply to same-sex couples.



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  • In Australia, a couple living together for more than 12 months are viewed to be in a defacto relationship, which has standing before the law, and the law of marriage applies if the couple break up. That is, property and children can be the subject of a ruling by the Family Court of Australia. You don’t even need to go through a marriage ceremony to be considered “married” as far as the law of Australia is concern.

    Also, the Family Court of Australia was established to deal with all legal matters arising from marriage, divorce, custody, property etc. It is separate from criminal and civil courts. We also have no fault divorce. The only criteria that needs to be met is separation for 12 months.

    So there is no legal advantage or disadvantage before the law, if you are married or not married, but defacto.

    We also have a system of civil celebrants. People who must complete the necessary training to administer the law, but have no connection with a church. You can get married in a church, but there is no requirement. It is personal choice. My son and daughter both used the same civil celebrant who conducted a wonderful service, crafted by the desires of the couples.

    Who needs god or a church in 2016 for anything to do with marriage.



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  • David R Allen #8
    Apr 7, 2016 at 8:18 am

    So there is no legal advantage or disadvantage before the law, if you are married or not married, but defacto.

    When my daughter separated from her partner of several years, they did so without any courts or outside intervention.

    There was no animosity involved: – They just had good jobs which neither wanted to give up, in order to move house, and my daughter moved to a new area near us, as she was fed up with long distance commuting and wanted to be near her brother and her young niece.

    Her partner bought out her share of their house in an amicable deal between themselves. (Both of them having law degrees might have helped.)
    She then rented a flat (no pets) in the new location (200miles away) until she bought a house a year later: – at which point her partner returned her cat to her – accompanied by his sister and her partner, who all stayed for the weekend in her new house.

    Among reasonable people, there are times when officialdom simply gets in the way!



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  • Alan #9

    Among reasonable people, there are times when officialdom simply gets
    in the way!

    Although I thought of her as a good mother, my first wife would turn savage on seeing me, with her sister as antagonist and equally hostile, they came as a pair. I thought long and hard and decided I didn’t want my daughter growing up seeing this so when the divorce went through (even the judge turned on them for their hostility) ‘they’ contested my access rights. I told the solicitor that I didn’t want to argue against it and told him the reason why I had come to that decision. He got angry very quickly and practically threw me out of his office when I would not change my mind.

    The happy ending is that when my daughter reached the age of nine she kept asking her mother about me trying to put the images in her mind to rest. I got a letter from her mum telling me this and asked if I wanted to see my daughter. I jumped at the chance and after talking with my present wife we met after seven year. I have two granddaughters now and no animosity from her mother. My gamble worked.



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  • @David R Allen #8

    Having no knowledge of Australian domestic laws, I wonder what happens if, to work the system, a couple elects to officially take the 12th month “off” with a soft break, and then “get back together” a month later. Does that nullify this vapor marriage? It may not be necessary though. I really like the practices of the Family Court as explained in your second paragraph. Very sensible. And really, what more are we asking for if not sensibility?



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  • For some reason that I can’t figure out, I never bought into the whole traditional dreamy wedding picture with the saintly bride tiptoeing down the aisle of the church with her beaming proud father walking beside her (symbolic of his ownership of her) and handing her over to her new owner and master. The exorbitant white fluffy dress, (symbolic of her pristine, unsullied virginity), the veil over her face (symbolic of how she has been sheltered from dirty horny outsider men) and there’s the groom standing at the alter waiting to take ownership of his female, with the blessing of God who is sitting in the rafters above and watching the whole event. Don’t even think about what will happen when they’re alone later that night until their imaginary friend in the rafters has put his stamp of approval on the fucking that will happen later that night! They have no right to do it without HIM!

    And what does the family of the bride think? -Well, when she turns up preggers nine months from now, we’ve got this guy locked in with a legal contract. He’s legally obligated to hand over support and we’re off the hook now.

    What kind of a bullshit scenario is this for the young people today? As comments above have pointed out, young women have their own careers now, hopefully! They contribute financial support to their partnership and children and couples split up the household chores as they see fit. Why carry on with these archaic traditions when they represent the bad old days of ownership of women and shot gun weddings and total responsibility for financial support for men. It’s just bad all around.

    I’ve heard that in Europe and elsewhere, young people don’t have such high divorce rates because they just aren’t getting legally married in the first place. What is holding young Americans back is the need to access a spouses work related benefits, with health care insurance being the most important one of all. As long as we must access health insurance through the workplace, we (especially women) will be forced to sign on the dotted line and commit to someone with a fully legal document. For us to take years off to raise children and run a home in the traditional way, there is a huge financial loss that would adversely affect our own retirement. This results in women staying in legal marriages far past the point that they would have walked away had they established their own retirement pensions and health care insurance policy.

    Now in my fifties, if I decided to obtain a legal divorce, my husband would go on to enjoy the best earning years of his entire career, retire with a pension (hard to come by these days), a decent social security check from the government, and while he would be sixty five years old and eligible for medicare health insurance from the government, I am six years younger than he is and will have nothing at all until I turn sixty five. After years of raising children, there is no way to get a job that will offer health care. This is just to illustrate how men and women here get railroaded into signing on that dotted line. The young people are doing the best they can to work around this and I am optimistic about it but until that disastrous health care situation is fixed and all other benefits and reimbursements are modernized as well, women have a difficult time of it to maintain their independence in the US of A.

    I suppose I should be more understanding of those who feel the need and desire to have a public wedding experience. I did not have a wedding because I saw no need to drag everyone into this aspect of my relationship. We lived together for more than a year before signing that legal contract and I assumed that everyone knew we were committed to each other at that point. Do we need an expensive party to prove it?! But I’m being too curmudgeonly right now and I know it. 🙂

    We signed that legal contract that day because we needed that contract to apply for residency status in each other’s countries of birth. We signed the contract in Algeria where the clerks and officials upon realizing that we had been living “in sin” for more than a year, accused us of “la concubinage!!!” If I had known the Koran better at that time I would have instructed by husband to explain that the Koran gives full permission to have sex with women who are acquired as spoils of war. (Jihad in the dar al harb!)



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  • In tribal days, the public announcement that you were an item (Possibly with the blessing of the elders) meant that you were not in the market for partners any more. And it had to be public, so that the entire tribe was aware of the situation, and why not have a party. That it later led to reigious complications and inhouse slavery, is another matter. Nowadays with cities housing millions, that signal has lost it’s meaning, and many young people prefer living together for a while, and if so requested by the partners, can advance to the next level of public commitment; wholly optional.



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  • LaurieB #12
    Apr 7, 2016 at 10:43 am

    For some reason that I can’t figure out, I never bought into the whole traditional dreamy wedding picture with the saintly bride tiptoeing down the aisle of the church with her beaming proud father walking beside her (symbolic of his ownership of her) and handing her over to her new owner and master.

    Neither my daughter (nor her brother) have had fancy weddings (or any weddings at all), but I have made substantial gifts and loans to them for the purpose of getting mortgages and buying houses.
    It seems a better use of money!
    House warming parties are a good way to celebrate with partners and friends!



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  • Alan4discussion

    getting mortgages and buying houses.
    It seems a better use of money!

    We definitely agree with this for our three. We do NOT want to spend twenty or thirty thousand dollars on a one night bash with nothing to show for it. We want to get young people started on some financially stability and this means getting into the real estate market and other investments. This is a win for everyone involved. If friends and family want to have a blow out party then let THEM pay for it! Too much socializing exhausts me. 🙁



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  • @ Laurie and others

    “It seems to me that the marriage ceremony is a fulcrum for the perpetuation of blind belief….”

    Okay, I am prepared to embarrass myself: I don’t quite understand this quote (above), and I don’t understand the question. There are plenty of secular wedding ceremonies where a justice of the peace presides. If you don’t want God mentioned, you can request that. I see no problem; you can have a secular wedding. The religious people can have their clergymen/women and the rest of us can use a judge. What am I not getting? What’s wrong with a clerk saying “by the powers vested in me”? It’s a legal proceeding.

    That aside it would be great if we could get rid of this bride-dressed-in-white nonsense once and for all, at long last!

    Money and marriage: a potentially deadly combination. A quick, real-life marriage horror story, and some free practical advice:

    My sister was robbed blind by her ex-husband. A fifteen year ponzi scheme. Tragic. She has PTSD, and lost half a million at least. It can be hard to distinguish between marital assets and stolen money (and he’s a financial adviser, knew all the tricks). There is a way but it gets complicated.

    Marriage does favor the husband. I have researched the weird history of marital law (a little).

    Fraud, identity theft, forgery, out-and-out thievery, even mail tampering.—If you commit these crimes in a marriage it is much, much harder to prosecute! Bad.

    Finance is not my forte, know less about that than physics. But if a husband steals the wife is screwed, because she has to choose between getting a quick divorce or sending the guy to jail and not getting that quick divorce. Family court is a nightmare.—The system sucks here in the U.S. of A.

    It should not be so difficult to distinguish between a marital asset and what belongs to each person separately. If it’s a marital asset both parties need to know what is being spent and for what. Filing joint taxes is safer actually. It’s when she filed married-separate that all hell broke loose. You are 100% responsible for how your tax returns are payed, and a scummy spouse can steal and hide it and cause tremendous harm. Also I advise strongly against giving a spouse power of attorney. That’s how he managed to sign for stuff behind her back. Don’t ever agree to that. She was blind sighted and naive. (Blind belief in her husband’s virtue?) Huge mistake. He used this to talk to the IRS for her and finagle all this fraud due to the POA he had. Nobody can be trusted. Especially the soft spoken ones; those are the most dangerous.

    If you get married, look before you leap. You can lose everything and the laws make it easier for this to happen and impossible to get money back or any kind of justice for yourself.



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  • @dan

    I am so sorry to hear this sad tale of your defrauded sister, insulted and injured by someone she clearly thought it safe to trust. For what it’s worth, my sympathy.



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  • 18
    fadeordraw says:

    I was the main organizer of an atheist wedding more than 40 years ago.
    All I had to do was find some designated guy who would legalize the proceedings and not mention god. So here’s the thing – back then there wasn’t the internet and I can remember, through phone calls I guess, I found and hired him. But it wasn’t difficult. We, or rather, our parents, wanted some civil agreement on our love and our forth-coming love child. The lovely ceremony was held in her Mon’s backyard. I wrote what the designated official, whose wife also came to see the do, was to say, which he did, and, in sweet consultation, wrote our agreed upon vows, which we said to each other. BTW: we’re still caveating the wording of our vows.



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  • 19
    Igor Dzaic says:

    Hire a legal secretary that works for your municipality that will carry the ceremony, register for a marriage license and sign it, invite family and friends to the event, and have a great day!



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  • @Steven007

    Having no knowledge of Australian domestic laws, I wonder what happens if, to work the system, a couple elects to officially take the 12th month “off” with a soft break, and then “get back together” a month later.

    I’m not sure I understand the question because in that scenario, there would be no advantage that I could see. If they separated for 12 months, can came to a settlement of property, then got together again, presumably the same property would be brought in then new relationship, and so not much would have altered. If they separated, and didn’t go through a property settlement, then got back together, again, not much has changed.

    Does this help?? Ask again.

    @Alan4D. Well done your daughter. That is the type of settlement I like. It didn’t work out. No hard feelings. See you for coffee some time. Unfortunately in my job, in a dirty divorce, we had to give effect to Family Court orders. Very distasteful work. Two bitter and twisted people who had lost all sense of civilization fighting tooth and nail over every cent in the property settlement. But even worse, fighting custody battles using the children as weapons to hurt the other party.

    I once had to give effect to a custody order. Lovely mom. School teacher. Living in a country town. 2 hour drive. Abusive truck driver husband with convictions. Somehow he gets an order to give him an access visit for a few hours. We drive to the country town. Inform the mother. Distraught. The father turns up in his prime mover. We give effect to the order. Tears everywhere. The children desperate to stay with mom. He piles them in the prime mover and disappears for 6 months. Bastard. Did it just to hurt his wife. Eventually we find them. Seize the children and return them to the mom.

    Sick in the stomach. I couldn’t wash my hands.

    So again. Give your daughter a back pat from one who knows how bad things can be. And scratch the cats ears.



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  • As an aging hippy perfectly happy and rather thrilled to “live in sin” from my teens onward, and entirely horrified by the symbolic aspects of the white wedding, I found, latterly, marriage to be rather sweet and possessing a few other qualities than unilateral bondage.

    I have likened it to when one goes on a diet, one needs to announce the fact, to co-opt the help, support and interest of others. I have always been a serial monogamist, despite any claims to the contrary, but “marriage” heightened the thing. Fidelio formed the image I wanted. It summoned the life-depends-on-it urgency that we invented for ourselves with romantic love, and this perhaps, in the gymnasiums of Athens and Sparta between two soldiers bound by oath to watch out for each other as themselves.

    Happily divorced, I still feel this.

    After Beethoven cue Edith Piaf….



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  • David R Allen #20
    Apr 8, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Unfortunately in my job, in a dirty divorce, we had to give effect to Family Court orders. Very distasteful work. Two bitter and twisted people who had lost all sense of civilization fighting tooth and nail over every cent in the property settlement. But even worse, fighting custody battles using the children as weapons to hurt the other party.

    I see the RCC is reiterating dark-age dogmas, while promoting fudge to retain members and income from members!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35994408

    At the conclusion of the Synod last year, Francis castigated Church leaders who, he said, buried their heads in the sand over the issue. He argued that their adherence to rigid doctrine was over-riding their concern for the suffering of families.

    Conservatives had maintained it would devalue the principle established by Jesus of marriage being indissoluble.

    The Pope has not changed Catholic doctrine, as some had hoped, but he does open the way for greater devolution within the Catholic Church on issues such as communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

    On Love in the Family“As for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

    So the basic abusive bigotry is unchanged, even if some more moderate patronising disparaging acceptance of the laws of the wider world, is being recognised!



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  • @David R Allen #20

    I guess the point I was trying to make, poorly I’m sure, is that the 12th month seems to be the legal trigger for the defacto relationship, therefore it now has legal standing with the resulting application of the laws of marriage. I am assuming the import here is given to 12 consecutive months. Hence my question. If the couple were to break up before month 12, therefore interrupting the 12 consecutive months required for legal standing, and then get back together, does that reset the relationship clock in the eyes of the law to zero? I’m less concerned with advantages vis-à-vis disadvantages, rather I’m interested in the legality of such a scenario. If an unmarried couple never had 12 consecutive months of cohabitation would they never confer legal ramifications such as those of married couples? More a theoretical question than a practical one.



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  • If an unmarried couple never had 12 consecutive months of cohabitation would they never confer legal ramifications such as those of married couples? More a theoretical question than a practical one.

    I will have to think on this. Might talk to a work colleague and get back to you.

    I know that in a disputed breakup, marriage or defacto, the judge will take into account the time the couple has had together, assets brought to the relationship but does not differentiate the assets accumulated while together. This is consider joint enterprise, even though one partner might earn $100,000 and the other $25,000.

    I don’t know the answer.



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