Married in Vegas, Divorced at Home Depot

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Here's a marriage promotion plan to warm the hearts of straight-partnerships-are-doomed types: Make divorce proceedings so byzantine that couples can't even figure out whether they've done the deed. The L.A. Times reports that can-do couples are adopting a "Home Depot philosophy" about the whole process. And screwing it up:

Driven by rising legal fees, a shortage of legal aid lawyers and a do-it-yourself philosophy, about 80% of people in California handle their own divorces, according to court officials.

Many of them are not quite as divorced as they think they are. Some of them…are even accidental bigamists, carrying not only hopes and dreams but also an earlier marriage to their new one.

At one legal services center in Van Nuys, officials say they see 20 people a month who incorrectly thought they were divorced.

Seems like that whole "do it yourself" approach wouldn't be as much of a problem if the process were simple enough for people to, uh, do it themselves. Analysts in the article instead blame a shortage of legal aid for the poor, the workings of the government being so opaque that government-provided lawyers are crucial to understanding them.

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  1. This has no relationship to the prevalence of lawyers among lawmakers. They have no interest whatsoever in creating byzantine procedures that happen to create more jobs for lawyers.

    Shelby, Esq.

  2. Shelby,

    Just like tax laywers and H&R Block stockholders have no interest in how byzantine and complex our tax codes are… ;->

  3. Maybe the D-I-Yers should just read more carefully and pay more attention to detail so that the procedure is done right. There is nothing magic about being a lawyer. People think what lawyers do is easy, but then when they try to take on the work themselves they fail.

    Divorce is and should be more like transmission work, than it should be like changing the oil, if you catch my drift.

  4. Divorce is and should be more like transmission work

    I would have used “oil change” as a metaphor.

  5. I also should have read more carefully.
    I divorce me.

  6. Divorce is and should be more like transmission work, than it should be like changing the oil, if you catch my drift.

    Why?

    Why should it be that much harder to end a marriage than it is to start one? What is the rationale for that?

    Why can I get married at a drive through in Vegas on a whim, but I have to become fluent in legalese in order to end a marriage (one in which both parties would like out and aren’t haggling over what they are entitled to take with them)

  7. Wow! I managed a do-it-yourself dissolution (essentially a no-fault divorce) with the help of a library book. I spent more time waiting for the wheels of justice to grind than I did actually working on it.

    Granted, my marriage managed to implode pretty early on, so I didn’t have as much financial entanglement with my wife as I might have. Not having kids also helped.

    Good times…

  8. I find it very peculiar. It is only byzantine in countries where religion has managed to influence the procedure. In Taiwan, a simple divorce is about as hard as a simple marriage… show up with two witnesses, sign the form and you’re done. Granted, it takes two to unTango.

  9. The process is probably not as opaque as these analysts think it is. It’s simply likely that many of these folks are either extremely functionally ignorant or profoundly stupid. I’m not trying to be harsh or superior…that’s just the way it is.

    There’s plenty of educated people out there unable to navigate lots of procedural and technical issues…from surfing the web to paying a parking ticket.

    I used to work in the default end of mortgage banking. It’s mindblowing how many people don’t understand the legal and financial basics of their own mortgage. Some people were flat too stupid to own a house.

  10. Why should it be that much harder to end a marriage than it is to start one? What is the rationale for that?

    Because divorce is a more adversarial process than marriage. As a practical matter, tere is more opportunity to screw someone over during a divorce than a marriage.

    Of course, sometimes marriage proceedings are adversarial or expected to become adversarial, in which case a pre-nup is used. In these cases, lawyers are invariably consulted (and probably bitched about, too).

  11. Yeah well, California, what do you expect?

  12. Interesting who the first commenter is to insult the intelligence of the divorcees. . .

  13. Having actually done legal aid in California (as a JAG attorney helping service members, spouses, and retirees), and having helped literally 100s of people get no-contest divorces in CA,

    I can say that the rules/requirements are not really that difficult if people could read and understand with at least a 10th grade reading level.

    While any legal process could be made easier, (whether we agree that it is a good idea or not), the real culprit here is probably the sad state of education in america, caused mostly, in my opinion, by the gov’t and teacher’s unions.

    How simple do we have to make things? And, I am not asking this from a “let’s keep divorce difficult” perspective, but from a general, how far do we have to dumb everything down in America? At some point, we simply have to understand that there are a lot of really, really dumb and/or uneducated people out there who simply won’t be able to figure anything out that is more difficult than ordering a hamburger at McDonalds.

    – GB

  14. Follow-up to my last comment:

    We had forms for individuals to fill out, with step-by-step instructions, which were written as simply as possible. We constantly re-wrote the instructions to try and make sure they were understandable by anyone.

    Despite our best efforts, people still could not follow the instructions. And we were purposefully attempting to write the instructions for someone with no more than an 8th grade education.

    And, these were the forms to give us the info so that we could then fill in the Court’s forms. So, we dumbed down the Court’s forms, and then dumbed down the instructions to the forms, and yet people still were unable to fill them out properly.

  15. I can say that the rules/requirements are not really that difficult if people could read and understand with at least a 10th grade reading level.

    And, that is a 10th grade reading level as such was considered in, say, 1980, as opposed to whatever passes as a 10th grade reading level today.

    – Gb

  16. Hello, hello, is this thing on?

  17. Interesting who the first commenter is to insult the intelligence of the divorcees. . .

    Since I might be construed as fitting that descritpion…care to expand on it, ironchef?

  18. The LA Times is wrong. Divorce in California is a no-brainer. With the exception of the archaic notion that chicks should be entitled to alimony because the old man was a big earner and she wasn’t, there is no adversarial relationship.

    If you properly file the forms you are done after the waiting period.

    The property settlement can be part of the divorce decree but doesn’t necessarily have to be.

    Child support is determined by a chart and is not part of the divorce agreement either.

    Aside from that, even if you go to an attorney, 9 times out of 10 a paralegal is going to do the work.

  19. Because divorce is a more adversarial process than marriage.

    You’ve obviously never been married.

  20. Oh sorry, even though divorce isn’t complicated compared to how it was back in the days of Mickey Spillane novels, it is still way too complicated. None-the-less, it isn’t THAT hard to read the instructions, file the forms on time and in the proper court, cross the days off the calendar, and be done with it.

  21. Since I might be construed as fitting that descritpion…care to expand on it, ironchef?

    I think he meant Sam Franklin, but since Same didn’t question the sanity of the divorcees, maybe not.

  22. You know, if people could read and follow simple written instructions, life would be much better.

    Most people can’t do things like, “download this document, fill out this column, return the document to me” without calling me first. That’s how stupid people are, I guess that’s what happens when there aren’t consequences for failure.

  23. “And, these were the forms to give us the info so that we could then fill in the Court’s forms. So, we dumbed down the Court’s forms, and then dumbed down the instructions to the forms, and yet people still were unable to fill them out properly.”

    Maybe people couldn’t understand the instructions because you kept putting commas after “and” and “so”? ;-P

  24. Why should we make divoce simple? The better solution to me would be to get government out of the marrage buisness. If people want some sort of legal protection to go along with “shacking up” or their “church wedding”, they can create some sort of civil union contract, and ending the contract would be as easy or as difficult as they choose to make it.

  25. In Dallas County, the questions necessary for a no-fault divorce with no kids and no property disputes are taped to the lectern in the family court. It is possible for the DIY crowd to get copies and simply repeat the questions on the record. There are forms on the Internet and in the library. It’s not quite falling off a log, but it’s the next best thing.

    The problem is that a significant number of divorces involve real estate, and therefore require more formalities. (Incidentally, realty is why government is in the marriage business. Religion and morality were later excuses once the deed registration system had been worked out.) Also, it’s been my experience that a significant number of people are just, well, stupid. Not as a synonym for mentally handicapped or neurologically injured, just inattentive, frightened, careless, or thoughtless. They have the capacity to understand most ordinary legal documents, but instead of reading the paperwork they rely on what their cousin heard from his barber’s girlfriend. This condition is incurable.

  26. They have the capacity to understand most ordinary legal documents, but instead of reading the paperwork they rely on what their cousin heard from his barber’s girlfriend. This condition is incurable.

    You can say that again.

  27. Of course, I find it amazing that anyone didn’t point out that it’s no business of the government to marry or unmarry people or have complicated legalese forms. That anything more complicated than two people walking away should be handled by simple arbitration infront of a neutral third party for a small fee.

    My 7-yr marriage went bad. It took a few weeks to figure out the property settlement and $800 in paperwork.

    It should have been days no money whatsoever…

  28. They have the capacity to understand most ordinary legal documents, but instead of reading the paperwork they rely on what their cousin heard from his barber’s girlfriend. This condition is incurable.

    Karen wins.

  29. See Rex, you are so absolutely right.

  30. The divorce procedure should be as follows:
    Say to your spouse “I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee”. Then throw dog poop on their shoes.

  31. It’s not quite falling off a log, but it’s the next best thing.

    When you’re afraid of heights, even falling off a log is hard.

  32. having watched a friend go through it, new jersey’s “easy” no fault divorce rules are about as shitty and complicated as one could imagine.

  33. I’ve read the comments, and am posting because my law firm is located in Van Nuys, CA.

    First, not knowing if you are divorced is stupid. In Los Angeles County (where Van Nuys is located) you can literally look up your case on the Superior Court’s website to see if a decree has been entered. Failing that, you could call the courtroom and ask the clerk what the status of your case is.

    Second, Van Nuys is not exactly the pinnacle of Western civilization. While not quite as bad as downtown LA, it is a barrio. Say what you will, but the illegal immigrants who speak no English are most likely not graduates of Guadelajara Polytechnic (or even Cal-State LA which amounts to much the same thing). The best of Latin America doesn’t rush here to stand on our streetcorners waiting for jobs. They, like an old boyfriend of mine, come here legally (and in his case graduate top of their class at UCLA.)

    People are stupid. Language barriers exacerbate the ubiquitous and cross cultural stupidity. So basically unless a divorce involved nothing more than a large paper with the words “WANT A DIVORCE? (?QUIERAS UN DIVORCIO?)” people won’t be able to figure it out.

  34. Hmm, seems like some people can manage. Sorry to all those invested in the LawIndustrialComplex that you don’t get your cut.

  35. Punctuation Nut,

    Maybe people couldn’t understand the instructions because you kept putting commas after “and” and “so”? ;-P

    That is possible, maybe.

    – GB

  36. Ironchef: Sounds great, but if they didn’t do some tax planning at the same time, they likely threw away a lot of money to Uncle Sam. The Law Industrial Complex always gets its cut; the only issue is which part of it the money goes to. People with money are usually smart enough to figure this out, and hire lawyers. As for the mass of people who can’t afford to pay the costs of complying with the divorce laws, I am much more sympathetic, but I agree with the commenters who point out the diminishing returns associated with simplifying matters below a certain level.

  37. Why should we make divoce simple? The better solution to me would be to get government out of the marrage buisness. If people want some sort of legal protection to go along with “shacking up” or their “church wedding”, they can create some sort of civil union contract, and ending the contract would be as easy or as difficult as they choose to make it.

    People can do this. People do do this. Trouble is that the serious legal fees come up front, rather than at the time of contract dissolution, and a lot of people like to defer legal fees, even if it means buying into a state statutory scheme wholesale.

    If one of the partners-to-be can’t afford a decent lawyer, then she may also balk at handling it this way.

  38. Divorces are basically about two things: 1) Who gets the property? and 2) who gets the kids? If there are no disagreements on these issues, a do it yourself divorce makes a lot of sense, if you are smart enough to read the forms and fill them out correctly. If there are disagreements, lawyers are going to be inevitable.

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