Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Have a cup of coffee on the way: marriage and conversation

When I was a young research clerk at L A Superior Court (1979 or so) the court where I worked, (the Supervising Judge's Department for all of Los Angeles County's family court departments) was on the second floor in the Hill Street courthouse. In those days the County Clerk's marriage license bureau was still on the first floor; there was even a duty "wedding commissioner" to perform weddings on the spot.

From time to time, someone would come in to our department to find out what had happened to the paperwork finalizing his divorce, and would grumble, pound on the clerk’s desk, and generally make himself a nuisance. Usually, after some searching around, the clerks were able to locate the errant judgment papers; sometimes they were able to find the problem that had held them up, and sometimes they even fixed that problem and sent complaining guy on his way with a newly signed judgment, the ink still drying on all the seals, stamps and stuff.

At which point, from time to time, the guy’d walk out into the hall, where there would be a woman anxiously waiting; they’d get on the escalator, ride down one flight, show the clerk that our guy was in fact now divorced and free to marry, and get themselves, as we say in the biz, hitched.

For two years, I diplomatically resisted shouting: "Hey, you know there's a snack bar at the other end of the floor? Why don't you two stop, have a nice cup of coffee, talk about what you're planning to do, and then get on the escalator?"

All of which is a long way of getting around to my project for this year: to get folks who are thinking getting married to think about what they're doing and why, and then to sit down with their fiances and talk about what they're doing and why.

You're going to hear a recurring theme in this project: that being clear about what you expect and intend when you get married, before you say "I do", increases the chances (if it doesn't guarantee) that the "death do you part" stuff really works out that way. Even if you don't believe in prenuptial agreements, or talking to lawyers, finding out what marriage really means legally, and what you and your fiance expect it to mean, is still more romantic than hiring a lawyer to divorce you.

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