During a visit to California, I witnessed the end results of a mismatch which has spawned a divorce. Though I have been divorced twice, my divorces were not the result of a simple mismatch, but of abuse and mental illness, so they are no yardstick for measuring the California system, but I’m qualified to give my opinion, which is that their system is humane, efficient, and encourages the better angels of our nature, rather than confrontation.
In California a couple who meet certain criteria (no children, married less than 5 years, do not owe more than $6,000, own less than $38,000 worth of property, agree to no spousal support, and sign an agreement for division of assets) can apply for “dissolution of marriage,” which is quick, easy, and does not require appearance before a judge. This simple process helps avoid the severe financial stress of lawyers and court appearances, and encourages cooperation rather than confrontation.
The divorce I am witnessing has lasted more than five years and there are children, so the methods become a bit more complicated, but also encourage a non-confrontational atmosphere around this painful decision. The goal is to have the couple write up their own plan for financial distribution, parenting, housing, and other issues. The state provides a truly helpful website, http://www.courts.ca.gov/1228.htm which emphasizes the practical aspects of divorce. It was comforting and informative reading.
This couple has consulted a paralegal, who has access to forms and formulae to determine support arrangements, and the forms cover various parenting eventualities.
“Do you have to go to court?” I asked my friend.
“Nope. It’s all done by mail.”
“So,” I asked my friend, “after you fill out the forms and sign them, how long will it take you to get divorced.”
Nobody needs to appear in court, and the final Judgment is simply mailed to each spouse.
A month!!!! It took me two years to get divorced, both times. Much of that time was waiting for court dates, then court decisions.
My friend then told me that there is a six-month cooling off period during which neither spouse can remarry. This provision took me by surprise. How clever. If divorce is relatively easy, then the least that can be required would be a period to think it over before life goes on. The law recognizes that when intentions meet real life, surprises result. It is better to let the surprises shake out over six months before entering into any new binding legal conditions.