The hearing

So, through some awkward pauses and miscommunications, I was going to attend the divorce hearing myself. To make it even more odd, it would be just me and J's lawyer.

I had only met the lawyer once before, when we went over and signed the original paperwork. Even though J and I were amicable, and I was largely just agreeing to what she had proposed, the lawyer felt it necessary to do some posturing to prove her worth. She wasn't all that bad, but it was crap I wasn't willing to listen to. We've already agreed on everything - no need to get in a pissing match to show who's side you're on.

I was going to be back in Seattle for a little over a week, and I decided to schedule the hearing as early in the week as possible. I didn't need the cloud hanging over my head. We set it up for Monday the 21st, and the lawyer and I exchanged a few e-mails about what I should expect. It all sounded basically routine. Too routine really to end a marriage. I guess we just needed the state's blessing that we had f'd things up beyond repair.

The process of the hearing was that the lawyer would ask me a series of questions that I would need to respond to in front of the judge. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the grounds listed in the divorce filing was that, "This marriage is irretrievably broken". I still (and probably always will) have a problem with this phrase. I don't believe it is accurate, but it apparently is the standard phrasing for the state of Washington. So one of the questions was going to be "Do you believe the marriage is irretrievably broken?"

It was going to be difficult for me to say "yes" and feel like I was being honest. I initially e-mailed the lawyer to ask if there was any way we could avoid, or rephrase the question. I wasn't contesting the divorce, but I wondered what the ramifications of me saying "no" would be. I wrote her again the next day (before she had responded) to say that I wasn't trying to make things more difficult, and that I would do what was necessary to make the divorce final. The wording probably only mattered to me at this point. We agreed to meet early on the 21st to go over things.

The hearing was set for 1:30pm, and we were going to meet 15 minutes early. There was a huge line at the metal detectors downstairs, probably jammed up with people coming back from lunch as well as folks going to court. I made it upstairs about on time, and looked around for "Gina". Of course I had only met her once before, and my focus was hardly on her that day, so I looked at everyone gathered in the hallway hoping for a spark of recognition.

She wasn't there as far as I could tell, but the place was packed. And the weird thing was the majority of the people waiting were very happy. They were chatting and taking pictures, and there were small children and balloons floating around the hallway. It took a little time to realize that there were a couple of adoptions taking place, and there was a large contingent of friends gathered. It was ironically like a wedding reception. There were a few of us who were subdued, but happiness was the predominant emotion. It just felt weird.

The doors opened to the ex parte courtroom at 1:30pm, and there was still no sign of the lawyer. We all shuffled in to the pew-like benches, and someone in charge was handing out paperwork for those not represented by council. I walked up thinking I might have to do this on my own, but she sent me back and told me to wait for J's lawyer. After ten minutes, I sent a text to J asking for the lawyer's cell number. She responded relatively quickly, and I stepped out to call the lawyer. As I did, Gina came walking down the hall.

We sat down in the hall to go over the notarized paperwork I had brought, and to discuss the proceedings. It turned out we were missing the actual divorce decree, and the lawyer did not have a copy herself. I had brought up everything that was sent to me to sign, so I don't know if J or the lawyer forgot to include the decree. (I still haven't bothered to check who's oversight it was). The lawyer dashed upstairs to get a blank copy, and she ended up writing the divorce decree there in the hall. One more bumbling step down this awkwardly handled process.

Once it was filled out, we started to go over the questions she would ask. We were interrupted when the clerk came out to tell Gina she needed a special stamp on the decree. One more trip upstairs. In the meantime, texts were going back and forth between J and I. It was an even more odd moment than I had imagined. Everything continued to stretch out and I was sending play by play updates to my soon to be ex-wife. How did this all happen...

We finally went in around 2:00. There were probably ten other people there to see the commissioner (not a judge I guess) for various reasons. For the first ten minutes, the commissioner sat at the front of the room, working on his computer in silence. Though it wasn't, it felt like some weird power play to make us all sit there waiting for him. There was a giant digital clock on his desk, the glowing red numbers counting off the time as we sat fidgeting. Among the many thoughts flying through my mind was "I didn't pay for long enough parking. I am going to get a ticket to cap off this day."

He finally called up the first case, and it appeared he had been researching it during his ten minutes of silence. It was a custody case, and the man there to propose a visitation plan had not been very truthful. The next few cases went by quickly, several of them restraining orders. The happy adoption families were in a different room, and all the cases here seemed to be the depressing stuff.

When my number was called, Gina and I went up to the bench. She asked the preliminary questions about when we were married, were there kids, etc. My responses were quiet "yes" an "no" where appropriate as I stared at a small point on the commissioners desk. When it came time for the dreaded question, Gina showed her kinder side and did some rewording. The question she ended up asking me was "J has stated that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and as Washington is a no-fault state, do accept her statement?", or something close to that. A small bit of humanity from apposing council.

There were a couple more questions and it was time for the commissioner to speak. I looked up as he said, "I am convinced that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and I am granting this divorce." As Gina had promised, it all took about a minute to be over, but it was a long road to get there. It was further drawn out when we had to go upstairs for copies of the various documents, but by 2:45 it was all over.

Before the hearing started, while I was waiting for Gina to come back downstairs with the decree, I saw other couples who were making their divorce final. One couple was still hashing out details in the hall while a friend tried to play referee. Another couple came out who had already seen the commissioner. I had noticed them individually in the hall when I first got there, and they had not been standing anywhere near each other. They hugged for a long time in the hall when it was all over, and though I could not hear anything, my feeling was that this divorce was also not the guy's idea.

I'm sure it was for the best that J and I were not there together that day. Initially it seemed like we both should be there, but I'm sure it would have been that much more difficult to have her sitting next to me. I barely held it together as it is.

Going in, I felt like I should say something once it was all over, but I had no idea what to say. What do you say after all this time, especially when you did not want it to end. As we had been already been sending brief, emotionless text updates on missing lawyers and paperwork, I simply sent a final text that said, "It is official".

As I mentioned elsewhere, rather than heading to the nearest bar and drowning my sorrows, I went for a run once the hearing was over. I'd like to say I left all my troubles and feelings there by the roadside, to be washed away by the next high tide, but of course that isn't true. I still carry a lot with me each day, but I do feel a bit of closure now that the divorce is final. For my part, I will still pick things apart, trying to figure out what all went wrong. But the focus will be more toward what I will do better in the future, rather than lamenting all our mistakes.

Well, mostly.


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