An unfortunate irony is that financial difficulties often contribute to a couple’s decision to divorce. yet it can cost thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer to assist in untying the marital bonds. Do-It-Yourself divorce forms, retailing for as little as $79.95, are sold both on-line and at many office supply outlets. As a result, our local family law court is flooded with “pro se” divorce cases.
I am a huge believer in the concept that the common man should have access to the legal system. That belief, however, does not lessen the problems caused by a lightly educated person trying to maneuver through a hyper-technical legal system. For a great percentage of these self-represented folks, the dream of getting a high school diploma remains yet a dream. The thought of stepping in front of a judge is frightening. Nevertheless, the desire to be “free from that bitch/son-of-a-bitch” emboldens those who seek to end their marriage.
The designated period during which uncontested divorces are heard in my court is facetiously called “happy hour”. I am faced with getting these always nervous petitioners “from here to there” without giving legal advice or becoming advocates for either side. The proceeding generally goes something like this:
Judge: “Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
The Guy*: “Uh huh.”
Judge: “Mr. Smith, I need you to testify under oath to the information contained in your Petition for Divorce. Start with your name.”
The Guy: “My name is David.”
Thomas Judge: “I need your full name.”
David: “Do I have to say my middle name?”
Judge: “I need you to tell me your full name.”
David: “David Clydesdale Smith, the third…but I go by Skippy.”
Judge: “OK, Mr. Smith. When were you married?”
Skippy: “In August.”
Jude: “What year?”
Skippy: “Ummm. This is 2011, right? It was last year. That was ummmmm “
Skippy: “Yeah. Wait. Maybe it was before.”**
Judge: “We will go with 2010. Tell me the reason for the divorce.”
Skip: “Cuz she’s crazy. She wouldn’t let me have any fun. Get a job. Change your drawers. Put down the lid. She was bitchin’ at me all the time.”
Judge: “Your petition says ‘irreconcilable differences’. I so find.*** Did ya’ll have any children?
Skippy: “No. Thank God. I have three and she has three but she had her tubes tied after the last one. She’s sterile.”
Judge: “Have you agreed on how to split your property?”
Skippy: “When she kicked me out, I tried to take the big screen but she kept whoppin’ me with a three iron so I guess I just want my truck.”
Judge: “What kind of truck?”
Skippy: “A 1996 Dodge 350. It’s got a Hemi. You can hear me comin’ from a mile away.”
Judge: “You mean your wife doesn’t want your truck? That’s hard to believe.**** Do you have a Decree for me to sign?”
Skippy: “A what?”
Judge: “A paper granting your divorce. I see you looking through a bunch of papers. Let me see them. Car registration, letter from your parole officer, a notice claiming back child support…Here it is. Give me a minute…OK. Mr. Smith, You are divorced.”
Skippy: “Thanks…How long is it before I can get married again?”
* Wearing his best beer company logo t-shirt
** Math and history were not Skip’s strong suits
*** The man did have a point
**** Skippy has never heard of the word “facetious”
On occasion, the Almighty peeks into these proceedings. A couple of weeks ago, a large but clearly female human stepped onto the witness stand during happy hour. I gave her the oath (Do you solemnly swear…etc) and I heard from her direction “I will”…except the “I will” was said in a deep resonating voice that would shame James Earl Jones. Both my head and the head of my court reporter whipped around to examine the source of the sonic boom-like “I will”. If I were to imagine the voice of God, this would be it. I recall a similar sound coming from the synthesizer in the “E. T.” movie. The bass singer for the Oak Ridge Boys couldn’t hold a candle. It was mammoth. It was disconcerting. It was…scary. I am not sure whether or not the divorce was properly proved-up. At that moment, I didn’t care. When the voice of God asks me to sign, I sign.