Things Get Ugly

So high is the pressure for a lavish, storybook wedding that in March 2005, Amanda Roxbury, a soon-to-be bride in Bethesda, Maryland, offered her and her boyfriend's only son, Jaycen, on EBay to finance the wedding they had planned for later that year.  The Washington Gazette reported that Ms. Roxbury told police she was planning to implant a tracking chip under the boy's skin so that the couple, after they received the cash from the company, could find and recover him.  The couple has lost custody of their two children and are now serving sentences of ten years in the state penitentiary.

The Choices For Young Couples

Where does this leave young college students from middle and lower-income families?  What are their options?

One is to fund it with debt. 

Jeffy Stilton is president and CEO of Matrimoney, Inc., which underwrites wedding loans to engaged couples--with a hitch.  "We take their marriage certificate itself as security on the loan.  Just like a bank uses the car for security on an auto loan or the house is security on a mortgage. If they can't make their monthly payment, they are legally divorced."

"We've only had to do it in a very few cases, I'm proud to say.  We brought them in, explained how they were in arrears by three or four months, and then tore the certificate up and threw the pieces in the trash.  It was very sad.  I felt very badly for them but we're running a business here."

And what if couples want to get divorced?  Jeffy answers with a chuckle, "Yeah, I get that a lot.  We have the couples fill out evaluations and we do a couple of interviews to make sure that these are people who will get and stay married."

Stilton says business it booming.  While banks and financial institutions are failing worldwide, Stilton says the 4th quarter of 2009 was their most successful since he founded the company in 2001. 

A Courtship Completed in a Courthouse

Of course, couples can choose to be married by a justice of the peace or a clergyman in a private ceremony and forego all the usual frills.  As retired Sandstone County clerk Earl Whittlebury described it,

"You know, before cohabitation became accepted and such, we had a name for that.  We called that a shotgun wedding.  So-called because the man and woman got married under the shadow of her father's shotgun, as they say.  I used to see an awful lot of them.  Nervous groom, sad bride, angry but satisfied father.  But not every marriage I performed was done because there was a little one on the way.  Lots of times, toward the end of my career especially, it was just people who wanted to keep things quiet and private.  I once married a bride and groom using two brass washers from the storage closet as rings as they didn't have any money but wanted rings."

Such no-frills weddings are on the rise.  Earl estimates that a third of the marriages he performed in 2008--the last year he worked for the County--were young couples who wanted to be married but lacked the wherewithal for a modern-scale wedding.

Debt or a pared-down ceremony.  Isn't there some other way to have a more conventional wedding without breaking the bank?  Enter the For-Profit Wedding.

"We call it the For-Profit Wedding in the literature," says Professor Winslow, "but it's more often called the Main Street Wedding by the couples.  It's mostly practiced by young, lower income, middle income, rural whites, but we've seen it with just about every demographic."

"We can only speculate about the beginnings because the evidence is so thin.  Certain elements of it can be found in other cultures and traditions but the whole package is unique and unprecedented.  A colleague of mine, Sydney Clift, documented a few cases of it in New Mexico 20 years ago and that's where we think it all began.  Now we're seeing them all over Arizona and the Mountain West."


Go to Part 5: Main Street Sense, Wall Street Sensibilities