It’s an exaggeration to say that drafting legal documents is all copying and pasting, but not that much of one. At least if you sort of know what you’re doing. Make sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish, find a good form and pay attention to the local court rules and you’re most of the way home. After substituting “Craig Calcaterra” and “Petitioner” for “State of Ohio” and “Plaintiff,” I was on my way to turning my last legal brief – written in 2009 – into my divorce petition.
I had been putting it off for a while. For logical reasons mostly. I wanted to have everything settled between us prior to filing rather than make the court have to weigh in, and those negotiations took a little time.
But there was part of me that was procrastinating due to the unpleasantness of the task. To reducing 16 years of marriage to a pleading, two contracts and a handful of affidavits. Given my complicated relationship with the legal system, doing such a thing seemed like an even greater insult to the memory of my marriage than did its ignominious end.
But I got through it. To be honest, it was easier than I thought it would be. For as much as I disliked it when I was practicing, there is a certain calming ritual to legal writing. To formatting the page just so. To inserting just enough terms of art to make the document accomplish what it’s supposed to accomplish without making it unintelligible and jargony. To going back and making sure that your editing didn’t cause the numbered paragraphs to be non-sequential. To make sure your Exhibit A is, in fact, what you said it would be in the body of the document. After a little while I was able to forget that I was drafting the documents that would put an end to my marriage and just think of it as a necessary task.
Married: July 1, 1995 at Beckley, West Virginia … Residents of Franklin County, Ohio since May 20, 1998 … two children were born of this marriage … Petitioners are separated, and have been living apart since October 21, 2011 … the residence shall remain in the possession of The Husband … a Shared Parenting Agreement has been entered into …
After a while the words become secondary to the form and it all washes over you.
When I was done I secured the necessary signatures – mine, hers, the notary and the witnesses – and made the necessary copies. I was left with a neat stack of white paper, properly bound and ready for the clerk’s stamp. I put them in my messenger bag and, for the first time in over two years, went to the courthouse.
In some ways it was more emotionally daunting to walk through those courthouse doors. I had a nice bit of catharsis upon my marriage ending and I’m moving on in healthy directions now. I still feel like I have unfinished business with the law, however. Maybe because I left it instead of the other way around. Whatever the case, I found the few brief minutes I spent there Monday morning mildly unsettling.
As the clerk took the documents and stamped each one, I was waiting for her to give them back and to tell me that they weren’t in proper order. To tell me that the local rule I had followed in preparing them had been amended recently and that I needed three more copies, two more signatures and a different kind of fastener because staples were no longer sufficient. It dawned on me as I was waiting that the two biggest anxieties of my life – my difficult legal career, complete with all of the little rules that always seemed to vex me, and the deterioration and ultimate failure of my marriage – had joined forces. I stood there terrified that I’d have to redo the documents and prolong this unpleasant process.
But it all checked out OK. The clerk handed me back my copies and gave me a slight smile and nod, which is probably as close to a “have a nice day” a person who processes divorce and child custody documents all day can muster. I took the elevator back down to the lobby and walked out onto the sidewalk. It was cold, but clear and the air felt clean. I took a deep breath and exhaled, feeling lighter than I had in a long while.
The final hearing is set for March 20. After that, there will be no reason to look backward instead of forward anymore. And what has so far been a pleasant new morning can grow in to a bright new day, unimpeded by old business.