Friday, December 17, 2010

The Way They Do It

In 1998 my wife got a divorce from her previous husband. We traveled from the sprawling metropolis of Houston to rural Stephenville, Texas (pop 15,000) for this to happen. Stephenville is recognized as "the cowboy capitol of the world" due to the many rodeo champions from there. They don’t do stuff in small Texas towns like in the big city. I thought I would tell you about that trip. Nothing important, I guess. But I think interesting, and endearing.

"Your Honor, I am the Petitioner in this cause and am prepared and ready to proceed. This should take about five minutes."

"A waiver has been signed?"

"That is correct, your Honor"

Marilyn was standing and addressing the judge in the courtroom. The judge was essentially calling roll prior to the divorce hearings. Everyone else had a lawyer. Instead of simply letting the judge know that they were present, they all spouted mumbo-jumbo about settlement issues that were ongoing or talking for five minutes to explain to the bored judge that they were ready to proceed. Lawyers do like to talk.

The judge seemed pleased and pleasantly surprised with such a succinct and clear statement from Marilyn. I suspect the judge was relieved to find a real person in the crowd. She did good.

We had driven to Stephenville Wednesday night -- got there about eleven and stayed at the new Comfort Inn on the south loop a bit down from Walmart. The next morning, we entered the Erath County courthouse....and Marilyn was a bit nervous. We figured we might meet privately with the judge to iron out this divorce stuff, but when we were all called into the courtroom together -- about 20 people with lawyers -- Marilyn started biting her lip a little.

We sat there for about five minutes, the Court Clerk -- about 90 years old -- had us all rise for the judge's grand entrance. That's when the judge started calling out case numbers to see who was ready to go. Of course, every time he called out a number, a lawyer got up to give their speech. Then when he finished without calling Marilyn's case number he asked, "Did I miss anyone?"

Marilyn raised her hand, and said "Yes your Honor, the case for Morecock." He asked if she was ready, and that is when Marilyn stood, and with great aplomb and dignity, made that statement.

Well, we were hoping that these hearings would be at the judge's bench, you know, a private conversation with the judge. Of course not. He called the first case, and sure 'nuff, the lawyer and the Petitioner would sit down at the table to the left side, and the spouse (or Respondent) sat at the table on the right....all in front of microphones. Marilyn mumbled an "Aw shit!" to me. Then the lawyer would put the Petitioner on the stand, question him or her, and the judge would ask some questions, and then the other party would take the stand. It was all formal and a little intimidating.

I could see Marilyn mentally trying to understand exactly what she was supposed to do when she was called. Being the legal expert that I am, I whispered that I figured that she was supposed to go to the table on the left and sit down. I didn’t know what to tell her about the fact that she had no lawyer to question her.

Actually, it turned out to be pretty good. The case right before hers was an old couple. He was 80 years old, and they were dissolving a marriage of sixty years. He was wearing the Stephenville uniform -- blue jeans, muddy boots, cowboy hat, and plaid shirt. His wife was the Petitioner and the divorce was uncontested so he didn't have to be there, but he announced in a determined voice that he was representing himself as he sat at the right table. When she was on the stand, being questioned by his lawyer, he would pipe up and say, "That's right, your Honor, and...." would go off elaborating, to the glee of everyone. The judge was very patient...and finally said, "Mr. Preston, I tell you what. I am going to have you take the stand when she is finished so that we can question you too." He seemed satisfied with that and shut up.

When he got to the stand, the judge was going over the division of property talking about her getting the boat, and the old codger said, "No, no....I bought that boat from her today. Paid forty-five hunnert dollars for it, but it needs lots of work. The wood is splintered and the paint is really bad, and..." and the judge listened patiently while the audience giggled. When he finished, the kindly judge smiled and asked if he could ski behind the boat sometime. The old gentleman told him no, that it was a “ fishing boat and only had a such and such motor and that…” Finally the judge asked him if he understood the divorce decree, and had he gone over it with a lawyer. He said, "Yeah, I showed it to Bob and we figure it's okay. But, I'll be back here to sue so I can get through the damn property. Her grandkids have me all hemmed in and I can't get to my own damn barn." The judge tried for a moment to sort this out, and then figured out that it had nothing to do with the he granted the divorce.

While the paperwork was being stamped by the Clerk and ironed out, the old gentleman walked past Marilyn, and she said, "Good luck. Maybe the next one will work out better." A mistake, because he stopped and stood there and in a loud voice said something like, "It's all because the goddam grandkids and those 300 acres. They won't let me cross the property and that ain't right....." He went on and on talking to an embarrassed Marilyn until his ex-wife's lawyer came up and  escorted the gentleman out.

It seemed as if this courtroom stuff was a little informal and this made Marilyn feel better. The judge was a patient and considerate person...and dealt with the old gentleman in a friendly and relaxed way.

Then Marilyn's case was called. She was wearing a tasteful dress that came down to her ankles with a matching jacket. She wanted to appear professional and calm and confident. She stood in front of the left table and waited to see what was next, clasping her trembling hands together in front of her.

"Are you Marilyn Morecock?" he asked.

"Yes, your Honor"

"And you are representing yourself?"

"Yes, your honor."

He then swore her in and had her sit at the table and told her to make her statement. Marilyn had copied everything out of a 'Self-Divorce' book inserting stuff that applied to her. She read into the microphone:
“Your Honor, my name is Marilyn Morecock. I am the Petitioner in this cause. I have elected to represent myself in Court. I am ready, with the court’s permission.”

He said, "Continue."

“My name is Marilyn Morecock. I am the Petitioner in this Cause. I am 49 years of age and ..."

“...No service or citation upon Respondent is necessary as a waiver of citation was executed by the Respondent and duly filed in this cause....”

The Judge watched her and nodded encouragement as she spoke.

On and on. As she and her husband agreed, the basis of the divorce was because “the marriage had become unsupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities between myself and the Respondent that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation”. She wasn't going to bring up anything else, unless he decided to show up at the last minute and throw a wrench into the works. He didn't show up.

Marilyn finished, and the Judge asked if they had owned any real property. Marilyn hesitated a bit, and told him that they had purchased homes, but they had been sold previously.

The Judge then asked her if she would recognize her husband’s signature. She said yes, and he called her to the bench to confirm that it was his signature on the Waiver. She then walked back to the table and sat down.

Now the tricky part. Marilyn wanted to change her last name, but not to her maiden name. And in doing so, she wanted to add a middle name, simply because she had never had a middle name. So I had written in this section which she read: "Your Honor, I desire and request that my name be changed to Marilyn Andrea Morecook. The spelling of the last name is a slight variation from my current name, Morecock. This change will circumvent some embarrassment and 'double-takes' that occur when the name is pronounced aloud. It will also put an end to the many prank phone calls I receive. I pray the Court will understand the basis of this request."

I cringed a little when she read this part -- especially since a guy in the clerk's office had said that we cannot do that -- but the book said we could. The judge could not keep himself from secretly smiling and nodding in obvious understanding.

A little aside here - Marilyn's choice of her new name was based wholly on having an antique silver and marcasite brooch with the initials MAM on it which was a gift from her sister.

The judge then wrote some stuff and said, "It is ordered and decreed...are divorced and that the marriage between them is dissolved."

He hesitiated, and we held our breath. "It is also ordered and decreed that Petitioner's name be changed to Marilyn Andrea Morecook."

That was it. Marilyn beamed as she walked to the ancient clerk and got the stamped and signed Final Decree of Divorce.

 I thought that she would be a little teary-eyed -- and she warned me that she might be -- but she said, "Finally, I'm free!" She also said, "Actually, that was kinda' fun!"

The divorce cost $143.00.

That night we drove around for a while. We wandered into Granbury, Texas and Marilyn spied a Bingo game at a VFW hall. In small-town Texas, Bingo is a staple of entertainment, so we entered. There were about 25 people, mostly old codgers in the requisite jeans, plaid shirts, and cowboy hats or little old ladies with tightly curled blue hair, which warmly welcomed us. As we found some seats, the Caller announced, "Let's hold on a minute while these folks get settled in."

They were playing something called mini-bingo and had cards with little slots that you slide to cover the numbers.  Marilyn bingoed on the first game - and won a whopping $4.00. But it was great fun....I even won a split pot - $2.00. When a woman won twice in a row, the Caller proclaimed, "Oh Lordy, Margie done won again." Very folksy and fun – and I was finding that I liked these county folk. We enjoyed it. They were nice people and made a couple of strangers feel welcome.

The next morning we headed back to Houston, stopping for breakfast at the Koffee Kup Kafé in Hico, Texas. What happened there was insignificant to Marilyn – but it was a little stunning to me. The guy at the next table was showing the blood on his arm “cause he was bitten by a goat”. Everyone, in their muddy boots and plaid shirts, thought this was terribly funny. 

Marilyn spied an ex bingo-buddy sitting across the crowded cafe. The woman hollered out asking what she was doing back in that neck of the woods. Marilyn hollered back that she had been back to get her divorce. Congratulations were hollered back. Marilyn blasts out that she is working in Houston making more than twice what she did at the college library. The woman replied "Wow!"

This was a normal occurrence for a café in this small town and it struck me as both odd and fascinating. The whole room was party to broadcasts which, in Houston, would be considered intimate and private information. But the room collectively nodded as if this were 'life as it goes on' and accepted the information and continued with their own conversations.

The trip back was uneventful except that I got to see some emus - don't have too many of those in Houston.

Houston, where things are a bit uptight and rushed.

And sadly, impersonal. .


  1. Ain't it the truth.. lol.. well, i am glad all things worked to the desire of each,, it seems. I had jury duty this week(not picked actually), but i was in that court room with ya'll,,,i think,, lololol

  2. I so appreciate the laid back informal attitudes you find in smaller towns, simple things are the best in my opinion.

  3. I keep telling my hubby that we need tol move to Texas :) mostly because of this dang cold, but I've always wanted to visit there sometime too. Good story telling as usual :)

  4. I can honestly say, I never did see any emu's while in Houston....except maybe at the zoo.

    Small towns are a completely different world. Small towns in Texas - a completely different universe.

  5. so true! I miss the small towns in Texas ... heck! I miss Texas! even Houston is a nice friendly town compared to some of the places I frequent is So Cal.

    thanks for bringing back some memories of my own :) oh yeah! and the memories of an amazing judge that put me at ease when I showed up in court to represent myself.

  6. Courtrooms.... so deadly boring with such fascinating isolated moments. I had to go to court a couple of times to secure my niece's guardianship - and other dull things - and was astounded by both the degree of boredom I experienced and the shocking moments when terribly personal information was broadcast to strangers. What a system. I suggest an emu petting zoo in the court lobby to make it more entertaining.

  7. What a delightful story. I love the informality of small towns and prefer them having lived in big and small. Small towns always make me feel link I have dropped back in time.
    Totally understand the name change

  8. Reading this while watching the court scenes on My Cousin Vinny on TV made MAM's big D case even funnier-- I cast it in my head, using the actors in the movie.

  9. That was great fun. I think people in small town Canada are not quite that open about their lives, however. I think it has something to do with the weather. :)

  10. My wife Nancy was married and lived with her first husband in California, but when the marriage went south, she moved to Colorado. When she decided to divorce, she compared the laws in Colorado and California and opted for Cali.

    She did her own divorce and set up the child support arrangement. When her husband balked, she told him that if they had to get attorneys to go to court, HE would likely end up paying for the whole thing and paying more child support. He blinked! Nancy did her entire divorce herself... which was pretty much par for the course for her first marriage.

  11. Emus?! Aw, shucks! We've only got an ostrich farm out here.

    Wow. $143.00. Satisfyingly inexpensive divorce.

    Another excellent story, brilliantly told and executed.

  12. I enjoyed the way you described the events. Small towns have alife of their own and that can add charm.

  13. Jerry--

    I've been away too long, and for that I apologize. Your stories always make me break out in a big grin, kick my toe in the dust and think about things--a momentary gift, and not an easy thing to do in the written word if you ask me. Plus it helps that your words brings me back to Texas, if only for the space of a blog post.

    Thanks for sharing. Be sure you guys have a very Merry Christmas, and see you in the New Year.

  14. Great tale. Small town Calif is much the same, everyone know everyone else's business. You know they are there for you when you need. Salt of the earth, and funnier than all get out.
    Merry Christmas to you both.

  15. No matter how nice a neighborhood is, it's not the same as what happens in a small town. Great post Jerry! Merry Christmas to you and your family...

  16. Thank you for telling the story. I love all the details. And bless Marilyn for having to live with that last name for a long while! The judge did the right thing to allow her to lead a happy and "normal" life with a new last name. I can't even imagine how a child could have grown up with that surname... Wow. Like something only The Onion could have come up with.

  17. Great tale- THAT is some surname! I wonder where it originated from?! :-)