Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

This may be the most law-related post I've ever written.

I spent this past week fulfilling my law school's 4-hour pro bono requirement, working at an organization that helps women who can't afford lawyers get divorced. Many of the clients they help are victims of domestic violence, many are on public assistance, many do not speak English as their first language. The cases I worked on this week were all uncontested divorce cases. Meaning that the husband had signed a waiver saying he was cool with the divorce. Intuitively, you would think this would be easy. She wants a divorce, he's cool with it, poof, you're divorced.

My biggest surprise this week was that this just isn't the way it goes. There's forms. There's lots of forms. There's requirements for service of process, and forms that go along with that. There's a form for keeping the wife's address confidential, so the husband can't find her in cases of domestic violence. There's a form to detail to the court exactly why they're getting divorced. There's lots and lots of forms, each with its own peculiar and precise legal language. And filling them out takes a while, and there are many steps each case must go through. Initial filings. Subsequent filings. Final filings. Affidavits. Notices. Etc.

And for an organization like this one to manage the process for as many people as they try to help, it means each case takes a long time. Getting the women in to tell their stories and have their information recorded. Tailoring the forms. Filing the forms. Getting them in to sign the forms. Getting them in to sign more forms. And so on. Each case seems to take years. Literally. Years. For an uncontested divorce.

It seemed like part of the problem was that New York doesn't allow no-fault divorce, and so there's a plaintiff and a defendant, and five possible causes of divorce -- cruel and intolerable treatment, abandonment, constructive abandonment, and 2 others I think. The cruel treatment one seemed to be most commonly used. And it requires affidavits with long and detailed descriptions of what happened. "April 7, 2001. Defendant threw chair at me. It broke. The chair, not me. Attached are photos. It was a nice chair." Etc.

This seems unnecessary. It's uncontested. It's a tremendously long and complicated process. I may be naive, but I don't understand quite why.

I don't understand a lot of these legal processes, and why there are always so many forms to file and papers to sign and bureaucratic hurdles to go through. I understand society is complicated. But is part of it just lawyers making rules to give lawyers something to do and hours to bill? That's a cynical view, and I'm sure there are other reasons, but I don't know them.

Anyway. Divorce seems like a real pain. People shouldn't marry bad people who will do bad things to them, or they will need to find lawyers and spend a lot of time filling out forms. That is the lesson of the week.