Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Traveller Tuesday: Legally Dead in Low Passage, Part 2

Last month I wrote an article about how the Imperium considered someone legally dead while in cold sleep, which caused a bit of a stir. One person on a Facebook group asked me, "How does this affect marriage?" and I had to admit I hadn't considered that. It also got me thinking about legal contracts (which is what a marriage is) and if someone could break a contract just by going into stasis long enough to be considered dead.

I have now given it due consideration, and this is my answer.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.

Marriage and Other Contracts
Even though marriage vows specifically state " 'Til death do us part", cold sleep is still seen as temporary death pending revival, and therefore not a nullification of a contract. If legal death nullified contracts, then someone whose heart stopped for several seconds on the operating table could say "I died, and so all my contractual obligations died with me." Since that doesn't happen (and would make poor business sense), it's clear that contracts end only after permanent death.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you're suddenly back on the hook for bills plus compounded interest if your emergency low berth is recovered after 20 years. If you are reported lost in a starship accident and rescue efforts cannot recover you (or your body), you are declared legally permanently dead and a Death Certificate is issued. On the other hand, if you just disappear for years in order to escape a contract or debts (see below), that's considered fraud.

But in order to get around that specific "until death" clause, a special exception has been written into Imperial Law which states the following:
  1. A marriage is not dissolved during cold sleep without either a death certificate or one party filing for divorce. 
  2. Marriages are specifically exempt from dissolution if both parties are in cold sleep. (This is specifically to prevent abuses such as next of kin dissolving the marriage while having power of attorney, or a lawyer serving divorce proceedings while both are in stasis.)
Savvy readers will no doubt notice that there is still an opportunity for legal shenanigans though clever use of timing. Don't think of this as a loophole; think of it as a plot hook instead. 

Debts are slightly different than other contracts, because most contracts are a case of "I get something from you and you get something from me" whereas debts are "I already gave you this thing, so now you owe me." It's all very well and good to say that someone's debts don't disappear in cold sleep unless there is a death certificate, but what about the companies that are out very real amounts of money if the aforementioned person lost for 20 years comes back?

The answer is "Imperial Relief Provision." In short, it states that if someone in low passage is certified dead (death certificate issued) as a result of accident or misadventure while in transit, the Imperium will buy that debt from the creditor. This also means that if you fake your death to get out of debt, that debt will be owned by the Imperium -- and if they investigate and discover you defrauded them, they will come after you for redress.

Relief Provision, either Imperial or local, is also a handy way to encourage colonization. People swimming in debt with no way to pay can become colonists, with the government buying their debt and allowing them to work it off at a generous rate (10 cents on the credit and with no interest, for example), or with all debt being forgiven after a set period of years (usually in multiples of 5, depending on the amount involved.)

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