Thursday, March 15, 2012

Community Property

For the purposes of divorce, separate property is anything acquired before marriage, or by gift, devise or bequest. Community property is everything else acquired during marriage. During marriage each spouse has a 100% interest in the whole of the community property, and at divorce each has a 50% interest.

While studying for the bar exam, these definitions rolled off of my pen as just another one of the many rules I had to memorize to prepare for the exam. Happily engaged to Ben at the time and growing increasingly dedicated to the Catholic Faith, I never thought the rules would have any practical place in my own life.

I got home last night, a few Jamesons deep as has become my nightly custom since Ben officially pulled the plug on our sacramental commitment to each other, to find that Ben had begun packing his belongings, starting with the kitchen. I suppose it is only fitting that Ben began with that room, since the kitchen is such a part of who he is, and the room where I feel most lonely without him.

I guess I knew that Ben would take all of his personal, separate property, but as it happens, his packing comes on the heels of my decision to start using the kitchen again. After weeks of take-out food and drive-thru coffee, I bought a few groceries intending to cook today. For many years I ate like a stereotypical college student but my approach to food changed with Ben and for the first time I started enjoying the kitchen. I didn't realize how much I had taken the tools Ben brought to our relationship for granted. With his belongings packed up, I realized I didn't have a nice chef's knife, which I had grown accustomed to, to chop my food with. I considered that the big cutting board, which he hadn't packed yet, was probably going with him too, and when I reached for the pepper grinder to season my fish it was gone already. When I went to remove my fish from its pan and discovered that he had taken is fish spatula, I wondered what the hell I was going to do now.

Before I met Ben I didn't even know there was a special spatula for fish. It's not like I'd never made fish before, and it's not like before Ben I ate fish straight out of the pan. Somehow, I always managed to get the fish from the pan to the plate, even without this fish spatula. That wasn't the fucking point. The point was, the fish was burned. The fish was burned because it's not my job to cook the fish. Ben cooks the fish because it's what he's good at, and I cut up vegatables and set the table and wash the dishes, because we were a team and we worked together and because we were a team that worked together the fish didn't get burned.

When dividing up assets, practically speaking sometimes a disolving couple must compromise. For example, though theoretically one spouse may be entitled to one couch and the other spouse entitled to the other couch, and one spouse may be entitled to the washer while the other should get the dryer, it may make more sense for one spouse to take both couches and one to take the washer and dryer. Presumably, whoever takes the coffee scoop intends to also take the coffee maker. So when I set out to make coffee this morning and couldn't find the scoop until I searched among Ben's boxes, I concluded that he must be planning to take the coffee maker too.

Ben can take the coffee maker. I'll get a new coffee maker. I'll have to get a new coffee maker because the alternative, not drinking coffee in the morning, is just not an option for me these days. We'll find a way to compromise, because the coffee maker, and most everything else, is easily replaced.

The trouble comes in splitting Gabriel's things. How do we split the locks of our son's hair? Who gets to keep the first sleeper he wore? Who gets the clothes that he died in? Does Ben get to keep Gabriel's baptism blanket because it was his aunt that made it for Gabriel, even though Gabriel was baptised at my instance?

I have become convinced that Ben would be content to forget Gabriel ever lived, and accordingly I feel entitled to his things. Ben will argue that he thinks about Gabriel every day. But he will probably concede that I can keep Gabriel's clothes and blankets and hair and caps and socks. Everything. But not because he is so noble. Not because he knows that even though they are Gabriel's, they are still just things. He'll let me keep them, he'll let me keep the dogs, he'll keep paying my cell phone bill, he'll keep me on his health insurance plan not because it's the right thing to do, but because he knows that after fate has taken my son from me, Ben has made a conscious choice to take my life's partner from me. He has chosen to abandon our marriage. He is moving out, making it necessary to decide what's mine and what's his rather than viewing everything as ours. Now, we're just another case in the book.

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