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Alicorn comments on Taking the awkwardness out of a Prenup - A Game Theoretic solution - Less Wrong

29 Post author: VijayKrishnan 22 May 2010 12:45AM

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Comment author: Alicorn 22 May 2010 01:42:31AM 25 points [-]

I decided a few weeks ago that upon getting married I will sign a pre-nup which specifies that all of my children will receive paternity testing without exception. This constrains my options in a way that prevents goal distortion in myself and certain types of mistrust in the hypothetical husband.

Comment author: Larks 22 May 2010 01:11:58PM 5 points [-]

Potential disadvantage: doing so signals that you're the sort of person who would benefit from such an agreement; i.e. someone who considers them-self vulnerable to goal distortion, and/or likely to be not trusted by their partner.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 22 May 2010 03:37:37PM 3 points [-]

Alternately it signals that one is sufficiently immune that ensuring a means will exist for their partner to measure this will be beneficial.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 May 2010 06:11:43PM 10 points [-]

Right. The intended signal is "I am so sure that I will not cheat (at least with the particular result of a child) that I don't mind guaranteeing I'll get caught if I do".

Comment author: NihilCredo 25 May 2010 03:35:40AM *  1 point [-]

The phrase between parentheses is a critical issue, since it is extremely easy - and, in fact, the default - to cheat without producing illegitimate offspring, thus making the prenup fairly worthless.

It's actually likely to make things worse, since swearing that "I will not cheat and get pregnant" is going to bring one's attention to the backdoor - i.e. that you never promised not to cheat outright. It looks like a classical and extremely clumsy deception.

Unless, that is, you'd be happy with your husband being suspicious of you at the same time he is confident that his child is really his.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 May 2010 03:38:19AM 1 point [-]

Of course I would also promise not to cheat outright; this just doesn't have the convenience of being so easily verifiable.

Comment author: timtyler 23 May 2010 07:12:48AM *  1 point [-]

It seems like a reasonable way to signal fidelity in advance. Guys can do paternity tests pretty easily these days - if they have doubts - though... and girls realise that. So, maybe this doesn't buy you that much - in practice.

Comment author: Alicorn 23 May 2010 07:21:28AM 4 points [-]

The point is not to wait until there are doubts. Getting to the point of actionably strong doubts is half the problem.

Comment author: timtyler 23 May 2010 09:58:04AM *  0 points [-]

If there are to be doubts they will probably begin before birth - when testing is not practical. Testing after the doubts begin seems to be a pretty likely outcome.

Also, I figure the guy is going to want to be the one who administers any paternity testing. A test administered by the girl leaves some opportunity for deception by switching samples.

Testing to resolve uncertainty over paternity seems like a good case of humans consciously and deliberately caring about the welfare of their genes. Some seem to think that evolution's motivation for a man to reproduce his genes comes is in the form of sexual desire and pleasure - but for many, this is just not so.

Comment author: VijayKrishnan 22 May 2010 10:22:10AM 2 points [-]

I think the legal details of this will need to be worked out but this is certainly very interesting! In theory, such a move ought to make you a more desirable wife and ought to prevent certain types of mistrust in the hypothetical husband. I doubt both of these would pan out in practice though, unless you are fairly certain to restrict your pool of potential husbands to the ultra-rationalists (who probably barely even exist in practice), or to guys who would a priori have preferred paternity testing, even before you bring it up to them.

Comment deleted 22 May 2010 04:44:38PM [-]
Comment author: JGWeissman 22 May 2010 05:18:59PM 9 points [-]

It wouldn't weird me out, but I am not at all typical. Though I doubt Alicorn's hypothetical husband would be typical either.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 May 2010 07:20:25PM 27 points [-]

Typical people are boring! Why would I want to marry one? Then I might have typical children. Ew.

Comment author: JGWeissman 22 May 2010 08:14:00PM 4 points [-]

Even with a typical husband, I doubt you are in any danger of having typical children. I based my prediction on "Typical people are boring!" Full Stop.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 May 2010 11:59:22PM 6 points [-]

I find this comment adorable, and wish I could upvote it more than once.

Comment author: gwern 24 May 2010 09:54:36PM 7 points [-]

"Normal humans don't interest me. If anyone here is an alien, a time traveler, slider, or an esper, then come find me! That is all."

Comment author: simplicio 22 May 2010 06:32:27PM 5 points [-]

I would be surprised but all right with it. I am I think more "typical" than most LWers.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 22 May 2010 04:23:55AM 1 point [-]

I don't understand how that would make sense. What happens if you renege on such a contract, and how does it change things relative to the normal situation anyway? Even without any contract, if your husband wants to test the kid no matter what, he can dispute paternity until the test is done and the evidence is there. The details of course vary between jurisdictions, but I think this should be the case pretty much everywhere.

(Also, I'm not a lawyer, but I'm not sure if contracts of this sort would be enforceable in any case. From what I've red, prenups are ruled unconscionable fairly easily, and I can easily imagine a judge finding this sort of thing ethically fishy. But I'm just speculating here; if someone more knowledgeable is around, it would be interesting to hear from them.)

Comment author: Alicorn 22 May 2010 04:26:16AM *  13 points [-]

Even if it's unenforceable, it changes the dynamic of raising the question. In the normal state, asking for a paternity test could reasonably cause offense - "Are you saying I cheated?". Writing up the contract makes the test the default, and then not wanting the test would be suspicious - "What, now you change your mind? You said you'd test them all."

Comment author: Vladimir_M 22 May 2010 04:29:01AM *  2 points [-]

Yes, but would be the advantage of formalizing such a deal in a prenup, rather than just committing yourself to it verbally and informally? Why waste the money for the lawyer fees?

Comment author: Alicorn 22 May 2010 04:35:56AM 11 points [-]

There is a realistic chance that I will forget having said any given thing I say.

Comment author: NihilCredo 25 May 2010 03:23:53AM *  10 points [-]

Using lawyers as the most expensive kind of diary ever is... actually not as bad as how they're ordinarily used, in fact.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 May 2010 01:39:29AM *  4 points [-]

Expensive signaling?

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 22 May 2010 02:58:23AM *  0 points [-]

I like the idea.

Curious: how are prenup violations enforced? I assume with predefined monetary penalties settled at divorce.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 28 September 2010 07:09:23AM 0 points [-]

Haha, when I googled LW for "goal distortion" I didn't expect the first hit to be Alicorn! :) I was thinking that Justin should write a post, but he's busy all the time. Problem is, he's thought about it more than anyone else, I think. Merrrrr.