I got an excited call from my friend AB the other day. "Amira, my divorce finally came through!" she squealed.
It had been a year and a half since she and her husband separated, and probably over a year since she was able to get everything together to submit papers. The length of time didn't surprise me. My divorce took nine months, and compared to hers, my paperwork was relatively easy. However, it was not without heartbreak and legal complications due to the divorce process itself.
But AB's story comes up more often than not. There are families across the country being tied up in courts for years trying to settle small details, thus keeping emotional wounds open and not allowing people to move on. And all I can think about is how my ex and I were able to get our marriage license three weeks before the wedding without a hitch.
While many of my gay friends are still fighting in my state to wed their partners, I feel angry that everyone else can marry with barely a blink, like it's nothing, laughing off 55-hour and 72-day marriages like jokes. Which makes me wonder if the states are being too lax. Maybe it should be harder for people to get married. And when I say all people, I mean everyone -- gay, straight, rich, poor, polka dotted, whatever.
Divorce is painful enough to go through without the lawyers and court cases. You're dealing with psychological scars. It also brings up a crisis of identity. On top of it, if there are kids, they're struggling too, adjusting to a new life of two houses. Going through the process with the courts can cause an amount of heartbreak that is unable to be measured by any device that I know of.
And yet, all I would have to do to get a marriage license right now is to wait in line at the Registrar-Recorder's office with any random guy I wanted to marry. But that's in the state of California. In Nevada, I can get married just by walking into a chapel off of Las Vegas Boulevard. In some states, the most you have to get is a blood test. Occasionally there's a waiting period, but in 20 states, the most you have to wait is a week.
So let me get something straight. You're about to make a serious commitment to someone; something that, if everything goes right, should last the rest of your life, although 50 percent of the time it doesn't. In big weddings, brides and grooms are so hopped up on wedding planning that obtaining this paperwork is a minor blip on their radars. The legal binding of it is dismissed. And it's relatively cheap to get a marriage license too: in Los Angeles, the current cost is $85.
Meanwhile, in divorces, while we are experiencing trauma that needs proper grieving, you have to pay attorneys, serve papers to the ex and then have him (or her) serve you back, costing a lot of money just in itself. Then you have to divvy up finances, move to different homes and possibly have to go to court and mediators. If there are children, that also includes custody battles. That is, if you can afford to have a divorce at all: the costs can be so staggering that some couples just can't get one, forcing them to stay in toxic situations. Does anyone else see the problem in this?
The solution I propose is slightly drastic, but I feel it could work. I remember before I married, my friend The Saint asked me if I was considering a prenuptial agreement. I told her no, but she said, "Are you sure? I did one."
She explained to me how they detailed everything from where certain things would go if one of them decided to open a business, or what would happen if they had children. There was a contingency plan even before they went down the aisle. At this moment, The Saint is still married. I'm divorced. And although I didn't have that much to split up, I think preparing for the worst would have helped in the long run.
I know that prenuptial agreements are often frowned upon, but there is something to be said about preparing in case things go south, when hotter heads won't be able to think about what's best in a worst-case scenario. Without prenuptial agreements, even if there was a way to submit basic financial information to the court before getting married, it might make things easier for a time when a marriage may not work and you tried every scenario for it to do so. That way, when things get difficult, there is a pathway that we already created to lead our way out, making a trying time easier.
Divorce doesn't need any extra punishment. Many men and women going through it already feel like failures without the help of any legal entities. There's got to be a way to prevent the pain. And, of course, not make some divorces last longer than the marriages themselves.