"[...] for he feels in his heart of hearts that if the prison gates were once allowed to be thrown down in favour of one unhappy woman, the whole mob would hurl itself against them and try to force them. They try to discourage us and make us resigned to our fate through despair of ever changing it. Yet it seems to me that in a properly governed state it should be the opposite: difficult to enter into religion but easy to come out." -- Diderot, The Nun
I got my divorce papers today. They were relatively easy to get; I called a couple of places, got an address, and sent off a letter with $40 and a request for a “Divorce Kit.”
I’ll leave aside how it feels to get something called a Divorce Kit from a place called Target (not the Target we know and love) to deal with something this life-wrenching, and just ask you this: Doesn’t “kit” bring images of model airplanes or chemistry sets with multiple pages of information and friendly usage guides?
Don’t be fooled. There are five pages of instructions. The front page is a list of the forms included, and it tells me that I will need maybe seven of these twenty-five forms I paid $40 for. On the second page are the only five paragraphs aimed towards me, a woman without children and with no real property to be divided.
This handy bit of advice on the second page tells me that I need to file a complaint, and that papers will then be served on my soon-to-be-ex. It doesn't say where to file, or how, or which forms I need to have with me when I do it, or what it'll cost, or how long it takes to process. It doesn't tell me why I have some forms that clearly need to be filled out by the court because they are "Judgments," nor what I should do with those forms. There is no handy list of terms with definitions to tell me what "statutory rights" means, or even the legal definition of “complaint.” This is less intuitive than doing taxes.
I know; I can look it up. I will. I have two problems with that. First, I paid $40 for this set of papers, a set of papers that contains only seven pages that I can use. I’d like some useful instructions.
Second, this should not be so difficult. What about a woman who dropped out of high school, pregnant, has no money and needs to divorce her abusive husband? What if she doesn't have the money for the forms, let alone money for a lawyer? She'll need a lawyer, because she won’t have time or inclination to decipher these forms while she’s taking care of her child and trying to work for a living. The process is five times as complicated with children.
It was so easy to get married. I think I filled out one piece of paper, and there was no "in triplicate" even thought of. I had to get the officiant to sign it, and two witnesses. Oh, and I had to go to a seminar on venereal diseases because they don't force you to do blood tests in Michigan, they just suggest it in a very dull, earnest fashion. It is painless to get married, a breeze, and everyone you run into is full of helpful advice.
Nobody wants to talk about divorce, especially those who've gone through it. It's an ugly time, it's painful, and apparently you have nightmares about writing your address in little boxes with "plaintiff" printed in the upper left hand corner. It’s five hundred times more complicated than getting married and it should not be. Nobody rushes into divorce.
To get married, you should have to file twenty forms, in triplicate, and you should be locked up in a tiny room with your intended while you fill out these forms, and all the pens should run out of ink so you have to keep asking for new ones. That only begins when you've proven to the court that you've known each other for a year.
After you fill out the forms, you wait another year, and maybe you get the forms back in the mail a few times with big red marks on them where you made mistakes. During this year, you will have to sit through lectures on venereal diseases, raising children, and communication. You will go to pre-marriage counseling, where a therapist will give you a battery of tests to determine what they can about your compatibility. You will have to play a Newlywed Show-like game, where a panel will ask you questions like “What was Johnny's favorite song in eleventh grade?” and then, “Do you like that song?” You will be required to produce carefully considered answers to these questions. You will both get financial training and analysis until you can't stand the thought of money, or at least you will have to prove you don't need the training.
You will be followed around for a week by a social worker, who will carry a notebook and scribble in it every time you speak to each other.
If you're a woman marrying a man and you plan to take his name, you will write a five page essay explaining why.
The compatibility tests, the Newlywed games, they're only designed to make you think. The answers won't matter. If, at the end of a year of this, you can still laugh together about it, if the name of the social worker doesn't make you weep, if the word "triplicate" doesn't cause arguments, you are allowed to start planning your wedding, which cannot cause you to go into debt of any sort. You want a $20,000 wedding, you'd better have it in savings.
After the wedding is all planned, you set a wedding date for a year later. You get a year without any real challenges, a year where you're not struggling together, a year where you can make sure you won't get bored. You also won't be stressed about the wedding when it happens, because you'll have already ordered the flowers.
If you last through all that, you get your ceremony, and you get your marriage. I have reservations about the time being as short as three years.
Divorce, on the other hand, should be one form for each person that you can fill out in crayon. On it you put your name, your social security number, and at the bottom are two lines with boxes beside them. One is: I want to stay married. The other is: I want to get a divorce. The echoes of grade school romance in this form are intentional, it is a last shot before the end. If either party checks the box beside “I want to get a divorce,” it is filed and done, then and there.
Everyone clicks their tongues about the divorce rate, about declining family values. The real problem is the marriage rate.