If you’re filing your own divorce, then chances are you are going to have to appear in court and probably more than once. Given that courts are governed by formal procedures, if you’ve never done this before it’s going to be scary.
My current guest, INRIS and his wife agreed they would handle their divorce themselves and used mediation to help with the negotiations. Here’s what INRIS says about appearing in court:
The way it works in Washington State is—and I think in most states, one person has to sue the other for a divorce. One person files and then the other person has different responses they can give and if it’s uncontested, then there’s a schedule for when you file certain paperwork.
You file a parenting plan if you have kids. You file a financial settlement either way. While the judge has an opportunity to review the financial agreement, it doesn’t get entered into the courts records. The agreement itself remains confidential. The state doesn’t keep a copy. At least that’s how it worked out in our case.
So, you submit the parenting plan, you submit basic information, you go before the judge with your actual confidential agreement that the judge can look through and the other person does not have to be there.
I actually didn’t appear before a judge. I appeared before an officer of the court and this was a family court. You schedule an appointment for early in the day, you go in, you spend a lot of time sitting, waiting for your turn to go up and he’s actually reviewing the documents and then he calls you up and whatever questions he has, he’ll ask. So, I got to sit through several other people going through their hearing.
When he has questions, he asks you to approach. It’s not like you can eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. It doesn’t quite work that way. But you can see how long people are talking with the officer of the court. When I got up there, he’s just leaping through it. He’s like, “You guys, this looks like a very solid agreement.” It was short and it was direct. It wasn’t complicated. The balance was all there. He’s like, “This is really well done.”
But what we did was in case there were any issues, Penny drove to the courthouse and she was going to be there, but one of the kids fell asleep in the car. Again, our kids were very young. So, while the kids were asleep in the car, she’s like, “Alright, you know what? I’ll just wait in the car. If I need to come in, I’ll wake up the kid and I’ll come in. If I don’t need to come in, I’ll just drive back home, kid gets nap, everybody’s happy.”
In the end, I seemed to recall he even asked, “Is she here,” and I said, “She’s not in the room, but she can come in at a moment’s notice if you would like to talk with her for any reason.” He’s like, “No, that’s fine.”
As a comical sidelight, I’ll mention that there’s a ton of forms for this process. The very last form you fill out for this process—again, the plaintiff is the person who signs the form, but there is one part that says, “If the wife wants to change her name, put in the new name here,” and then all of that gets taken care of legally automatically.
Now, my ex-wife did not choose to change her name. She may choose to do so at some time in the future. She’s still undecided about that. But for various reasons, it’s just easier to keep the same last name with kids and all of the rest of that. That was her decision and that was fine.
But I’m turning in this form and there’s this line. I do actually have a sense of humor and I was thinking, “What if I just filled in some random name?” These are the things that sometimes fly through my head.
I think if I had done that, if I had put in some random, I think the officer of the court might have seen that and looked up at me and said, “Really?” But anyway, no, only one person needs to go in there if it’s uncontested. If it’s contested, you’re both going to show up.
The Divorce Coach Says
I chuckled when INRIS shared his thoughts on giving his STBX a new name although if he’d followed through on that it would not have been funny. So, if you do decide to do your own divorce, if there are any blanks on your paperwork be sure to put a line through it or mark it as N/A to avoid any last minute, unintended changes.
Divorce laws differ from state to state and they do change over time. Even the terminology differs. For example, here in Colorado there’s an option for spouses to be co-petitioners. That means that one spouse doesn’t have to sue the other and it also means that you won’t have to have the divorce petition formally served on your spouse. That’s saves you another expense. So researching your state’s process and requirements is very important.
As INRIS says these hearings are public. That means you can go and observe how it all happens before your case is scheduled. Check with your courthouse when cases like yours are going to be heard and then invest a couple of hours to go along and observe. Seeing how the process works will make you feel more comfortable and may also give you an understanding of some of the common pitfalls.
INRIS blogged about his divorce while it was in progress over at It Never Rains In Seattle … that’s how I first connected with him. It’s definitely worth visiting and looking through the archives.