Friday, July 10, 2015

Divorce

There are some aspects of divorce that are the same everywhere - though I have to admit that my experience is limited. Limited to Texas, Ireland and France.

Most people get down and dirty when it comes to any relationship break up, but with marriage, where children and/or property are involved it frequently gets downright nasty.

Here are some differences I have observed - obviously I know more about the Texas divorce because I was personally involved, on the other hand I know that my case was unusual because it was cut and dried and uncontested - all the nastiness had already happened and was over:

Do it yourself in Texas:


I left Ireland in June 1994. At that time I had already been legally separated for almost 5 years. Divorce was not an option - in fact the Irish Constitution banned it. I settled into my new life in Austin TX. One day, while browsing the shelves in Barnes & Nobel I found a book titled 'How to Do Your Own Divorce in Texas'. I had to buy it. It consisted of instructions and sample documents to be filed. The more I read, the more I realized I could do this! I did some research and discovered that although divorce was not legal in Ireland, a divorce decreed in a country / state where it was legal, was recognized by the Irish State, with conditions, the divorcee(s) had to either be citizens of that country, or permanent legal residents. If you read my book, you know this already.

Among the conditions for a do it yourself divorce were that all joint assets had to have been already divided and custody of any children of the marriage had to have been agreed upon. Well, I was already legally separated, all assets had been sorted out at that time and all three children were no longer children, all being over 18. I had to obtain a notarized waiver from my ex husband, indicating that he had no intention of disputing the divorce, and I had to supply a notarized declaration of intent to never return to live permanently in Ireland. Both documents were easily acquired, and once I had them I filed the papers in Williamson County, TX. It would be 10 weeks before a court date was set.

While I counted down to the court date, I read and reread the instructions in the book. I would be expected to stand up before the Judge and state my case. List the reasons for the divorce, the example given was 'reconcilable differences'. I carefully prepared my speech. I would explain that we were already legally separated, all assets had been divided as part of that separation, all children were over 18, I had a notarized waiver from my ex husband. Everything was in order and I had put in for the morning off work, was as ready as I would ever be.

As is my habit, I was at the courthouse 30 minutes before it opened for business. It was a chilly, windy winter morning and I was already a bag of nerves as I stood outside shivering, waiting for the doors to open. At last I made my way through the security checkpoint and found the court room where Judge Carter (now Congressman Carter) was presiding. It didn't surprise me to discover I was the first to sign the book, stating my case and ticked the box for 'pro se', found a seat and sat there going over my lines.

I suspected it would be first come, first served and was relieved that I was top of the list, more especially as the court started filling up as self important people is smart suits bustled in with papers and books. I was going to be nervous enough standing up there speaking without having a huge audience. Ah but I forgot that in such an environment it would be the lawyers time that would be considered most valuable. Therefore anyone who was not 'pro se' (that was everyone but me) would be heard first. As I listened to each case - all uncontested divorces - I realized that the words in the book were exactly what I should have prepared to recite tunelessly, just as each lawyer in turn did. But it was too late now, I would just freeze up if I didn't follow what I had been practicing. And in my usual perverse way, I wanted to do it my own way.

Finally, after about 2 hours, it was my turn. I stood in front of the Judge and went through my speech, he didn't look like a judge to me, no wig or gown, just a grey haired man watching me with a look of mixed amusement and surprise on his face. When I finally reached the end of what I had prepared, I waited in anticipation - would he grant the divorce or would he find some flaw in my argument? He lent forward and said "And what made you decide to come to Texas?". So, not only did I have to present my case in front of all those people, I then had to explain that I had won a Green Card in the lottery and I came to Texas because of my love of Country & Western music, the history of the wild west, Davy Crockett & the Alamo and John Wayne - of course as always, I then had to explain that I knew John Wayne was not from Texas, but to me, through his movies, he represented the history of Texas and the West. Judge Carter listened with obvious amusement and the banged his gavel and granted my divorce. I went back to work.

Ireland:

In November 1995 there was a referendum to remove the ban from the constitution, it passed by 51%-49% and in June 1996 divorce was available in Ireland, though not very easily so. The requirements were very stiff.

This year, almost 20 years later, what is one of the more stressful events in a persons life, is still a long and expensive process in Ireland. It takes a minimum of 5 years, and considering that the marriage has probably been unbearable for sometime before that, that is is a very long time to have to maintain a less than normal life and deal with the stress -  not to mention cost. The cost of maintaining separate homes, who lives in the family home and what about the children? Of course, all of the details around home and children are usually sorted out with the legal separation which is available after one year of living apart. The divorce, which can cost anything from EURO 2,000 to EURO 25,000 is available for those who can afford it, 4 years after the separation. That 4 year wait is obligatory, for what reason I do not know.

Obviously if you can agree to terms and draw up the papers without the assistance of a judge, the cost will be less, though still more than most can afford.

France:

It is impossible to figure out what they think they are doing in France. More so than any other country, in France it is who you know, and if you happen to be married to a man who is violent, by French law you better just sit tight and take a beating, because according to this web site:
"It should be noted that a spouse who leaves the family domicile without a court authorization may be deemed under French law to have committed a "fault" giving rise to significant financial consequences. Thus, a spouse should avoid doing so until it has been possible to consult with French counsel"
The woman I know, ran for her life, to a police station and filed a report. Here is the strange thing, the report vanished, ceased to exist. The fact that her spouse was military, and her sister in law was a Gendarme might have had something to do with that, otherwise we must believe that the French police are very inefficient. Like any other country, there is very little you can do about people signing false affidavits to ensure that marital property is not shared evenly.  But it is hard to believe that after a 16 year marriage, living and working together to make a home, a divorce settlement results in the battered female owing the triumphant military 'gentleman' a large sum of money to pay for the fact that she lived with him rent free? And that was not a compensation for standard of living because he was earning a healthy income while she was unemployed - due to having to escape from his violence. That was a result of fraud and perjury.

I guess the moral of this story is don't get married? or perhaps the real lesson is - study the laws of the land carefully no matter where you live, not just divorce laws but if you see a divorce in your future, that is when you have got to educate yourself, because learning about it after the fact is frequently too late.