Friday, July 27, 2012

Making It On My Own

The California Judicial Council has adopted a number of forms to be used for what is now called "form pleading."  The idea behind form pleading was to streamline the legal process for routine proceedings, and to make the judicial process easier and more accessible for lay people.  

Among the forms is FL-800, the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage, a perfect example of legal streamlining.  Summary dissolution is for couples who are prepared to both throw their hands up in the air and say, "I give up." Not every couple qualifies for summary dissolution, though.  To file the couple must have been married for less than five years, have no children, no joint real property, and a minimum amount of joint assets.  Qualifying couples file as co-petitioners, and check a series of boxes to form their declaration, for a total of two pages.  Six months later, they're divorced.

My life for the last few years has been reduced to two pages of Judicial Council forms, the abridged version of the Ben and Andrea Story.  The fact that we are co-petitioners implies a meeting of our minds, but doesn't begin to tell of the tug-and-pull that we'd been going through for more than a year before our filing date.  To say "Less than five years has passed since the date of our marriage and/or registration of our domestic partnership and the date of our separation" doesn't say just how much happened in those years, how we aged, how our love changed, or how much those years really mattered to us.

"There are no minor children that were born of our relationship before or during our marriage or domestic partnership or adopted by us during our marriage or domestic partnership.  Neither of us, to our knowledge, is pregnant," was the most painful statement of our form pleading.  It doesn't reflect that somewhere, in some greater sense, there are two children.  There were two positive pregnancy tests; two big announcements; one crushing miscarriage; one hopeful first trimester; one devastating word, "anencephaly," that changed the course of our lives and our marriage entirely; one big decision; two days of labor; one sweet little boy; ten miraculous days; a funeral; a lifetime of missing our son.  After Gabriel died there were months of looking for some signs of pregnancy; countless tears when the month went by and still there was no baby-to-be.  There was that first month when I didn't cry; there was that first month when I was relieved that I wasn't pregnant as I started to accept the inevitable - that our marriage was ending.

And then, the kicker:  "Irreconcilable differences have caused the irremediable breakdown of our marriage and/or domestic partnership."  So formal.  So legal.  Lawyer-talk for, "We tried; we just couldn't get our shit together."

The first month after we filed clicked by quickly but as we ease into the second month I feel loneliness creeping in.  I don't want to be lonely.  The answer seems simple enough - I should just surround myself with people.  But it's a loneliness that is there, and is somehow more intense even in a crowd.  It's a loneliness that I want to experience alone in my room where I'm free to not brush my hair for a day and not get dressed and eat cheese puffs.  I think I've eaten about 682 cheese puffs in the last week.

As my life veers off in this unplanned direction I've decided to finally start looking for legal work in an area outside of my anticipated area of practice.  I'm reluctant to do anything but criminal law, but I find that criminal law now is just too personal for me.  The clients are real people with names and families and faces, and I want clients who are nameless, faceless, impersonal corporations who just want me to crank out rote documents and get them the best deal.

The problem with the job hunt is that, though I was admitted to the state bar in 2009, my lack of experience makes me not much more than an entry level attorney.  I imagine an interview with a potential employer:

"You graduated three years ago ['Less than five years has passed since the date of our marriage. . .'] and were admitted to the state bar in 2009, but you haven't been practicing full-time.  Why not? "

"Well, I had an offer with the Public Defender's office but that fell through when the county issued a hiring freeze.  Then, I got married and we decided I would just do contract work from home so we could start building a family."

"Oh.  So. . .?"

"So. . . what?  Oh.  How did that turn out?  Well, I'm divorced, with a dead baby.  But, I can definitely come in early and stay after hours," I'll say with that perfectly straight face that freaks people out sometimes, and I imagine that my deadpan sense of humor will either make or break me.

"We'll get back to you," they'll say, and I'll go home and step out of my heels and wash off my make-up and put on something sloppy and lay around replaying the interview in my head while "Reba" re-runs play in the background. Maybe I'll eat more cheese puffs.  Because that's what I do.  I eat cheese puffs, and I think too much.

"Do you ever stop and think, 'How did I get here?'" I asked Ben, once the executive chef of the largest venue in Bakersfield, this morning.  But I already knew that he does.  It's nice to not have to hate him; I suppose, really, I never had to hate him.  I hated him of my own volition, and sometimes I still do - never more than when I crawled around the bedroom floor on my hands and knees, waxing the hardwood floors that still never shine like they did when he was here.

It's all part of the process, I guess.  I'd always heard people talk about what divorce was like, but they were most right when they said it's something that can't be understood without experiencing it.  There are moments when the freedom is fun and hopeful but there are still times when I long for the stability of even an unstable marriage.  That's not to say I want to reunify.  I'm not even sure I would ever want to see Ben again, though I'm still angry at him that he made the decision to leave so that I likely never will.  I don't even know what I want or expect from him.  I know that, if I am to believe Tammy Wynette, the feeling of wanting or needing anything from Ben will subside eventually. And since most of my best counseling comes from country music these days, I'll just have to trust her.

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