You know if I leave you now,
It doesn’t mean that I love you any less.
Sarah McLachlan (and Warren Zevon)
My ex and I split up 6 years ago and have handled all of our arrangements on our own, yet we hadn’t dealt with the legal formalities. Today, we went to court to finalize the dissolution of our marriage, and frankly, I was quite shaken by how combative and painful it was. There were motions to have the children assigned their own legal representation, quarrels over unpaid medical expenses, and questions about the fairness of the separation agreement. I had no idea that it would come to this.
Thankfully, those unpleasant moments had nothing to do with our divorce. Instead, we were forced to sit in on two other proceedings that happened before ours. It was like being dumped into someone’s private soap operas, and unfortunately, we learned their names, addresses, and much more unsavory personal information about them. We sat there together in shock, as I put my hand on his leg and he grabbed it and held it. Not only were we horrified by the nasty disagreements between a couple that had been divorced for years, but we were also instantly grateful for the cooperation that exists between us.
The next couple was much sweeter. The wife teared up in the beginning and was concerned that her hard of hearing husband couldn’t understand the judge’s questions. Nevertheless, the judge started asking them tough questions about their legal agreement, and we started to worry about the details of our own. Personally, I hadn’t expected to be grilled about our decisions. They were personal ones that made sense to us.
When she finally called us up there, we were the only couple left in the courtroom. She said, “Well, you’ve had a chance to see how this works.” We both laughed nervously. Luckily for us, she smiled kindly and sailed smoothly through our agreement. She seemed to be convinced that we had made sensible arrangements, partly due to the way that we had interacted in the courtroom, plus our long term separation and our use of a legal mediator to write up the agreement. We were quite relieved.
When she came to our agreement to share the children’s medical expenses, I told her that we didn’t plan to come back to court to fight over that. My ex chimed in and said that we could make decisions about braces without the help of a judge (unlike the first couple). She laughed and said, “It all comes down to communication.” When she approved our agreement, my ex asked me for a hug. She smiled widely and said “Keep up that attitude.”
What we saw in that courtroom had quite an impact on us. I was really sad, but not because I was divorcing, but because I had seen such animosity between divorced parents. Yet, of course, there was also a sense of lament at the formal end of our marriage. We looked at each other tearfully, hugged again, and I said, “We just officially saw that we did a good job.” He replied, “We’re still doing a good job.” I couldn’t agree with him more.