Tuesday, October 04, 2005

By Request

I spent a quiet Friday afternoon in the Federal Magistrate's Court a few weeks ago, taking care of a long overdue bit of personal business. It wasn't a particularly good day. I'm not sure which idea is sillier; going off the the Federal Magistrate's Court to cut the knot the day after a more or less sleepless night or staying up most of the night before you're set to go off to cut the knot thinking "Seeing as I can't sleep, I might as well get that new computer set up." But that was the day we'd finally agreed, after several weeks, months and a couple of years all up of calling each other up occasionally for a little chat about how we really should get the forms filled out and lodged and get the whole thing done with. What finally put an end to the procrastination was the realisation that if we put it off much longer, we'd have to apply for the divorce under Phil Ruddock's ridiculous new "keep 'em together at all costs" regime. Time to get it over with, before it was impossible for us to get unhitched before we'd satisfied a mediator or counsellor that there really was no way in hell that we were ever going to get back together.

Late Friday morning I went round to the ex's place by tram and shank's pony. Once there I got the welcome I'd been expecting; the cats ignored me, the dog sniffed my crotch, the ex asked if I'd mind making the tea. And coffee for me of course. Then we printed up all the required forms (downloaded off the Family Court web-site), signed and dated them, drank the tea (and the coffee for me) and took off to the station. We caught the train to Flagstaff station together, separated when we came off the escalator into the concourse so that I could slip into the gents. I came out of the gents and the ex was nowhere in sight. I decided she must have gone up to the street, so I followed her but I couldn't see her on the street either, nor around the entrance to the Federal Magistrate's Court building, which is right on the Flagstaff Station concourse. I looked across at the tram stop and thought I could be home again in forty minutes. It doesn't need both of us here to lodge the forms. I've half a mind to just bugger off, because I'm not really in the mood for this.

Instead, I went back down the escalator to the concourse and there she was at the bottom. She'd had a few needs of her own to take care of while I'd been slipping into the lavatory. Reunited, we went back up the escalator and across the concourse to the Federal Magistrate's Court. We had to go through a metal detector to get inside.

I did a thorough job of getting all the metallic stuff out of my pockets - keys, coins, cigarette lighter, Swiss Army knife, cigarette pack with foil liner, that blister pack with two sudafeds I'd forgotten about, an old pack of stale chewing gum, a three and a half inch floppy disc and several pieces of scrunched up aluminium foil of doubtful provenance - and walked through the metal detector. Which went off, of course. I'd forgotten about my belt and the steel toe caps on my working-class-origin boots. So the security guard waved a hand held metal detector over me and, once he was satisfied that I was no more dangerous than anybody else who might wander into the building in steel tipped boots, he let us go on in.

We went to the registrar's desk with our forms all filled in and told him that we were after filing for divorce. And did they have someone who could notarise the forms in the proper manner. No they didn't; their Justice of the Peace had gone home for the day. But we could get them witnessed in the proper fashion at the Justice of the Peace down the road a little (past the Mint) in Lonsdale Street or we could take our chances with the Clerks at the Melbourne Magistrate's Court. But if we went down to the Melbourne Magistrate's Court, it would be politic not to mention that we wanted them to notarise the forms for a Federal Magistrate's Court proceeding because they'd get all huffy and tell us to go away and we'd have to go the other JP anyway. What all this legalese really meant was, the guy who's supposed to be here to notarise your forms took off home early to beat the traffic and if you go to the State Magistrate's Court and tell them I sent you, my boss will get a huffy e-mail from their boss and I'll be in shit for it."

So, out we went to the street, and once again I was thinking about escape - once we've got the forms witnessed in the proper fashion, I'll make some excuse to go home. Tell her I'm coming down with leprosy. My foot went to sleep on the train this morning - that could easily be a first sign of leprosy. Once again, there was a metal detector to get through before we could go into the court building, more pocket emptying (although this time without the scrunched up bits of foil, which I'd binned) and we went upstairs to see the Clerk of Courts. Who would be quite happy to do the business with the forms but we should be aware of a recent change in the Commonwealth Evidence Act which meant that Clerks of the State Magistrate's Court might not be considered fit and proper persons to take our sworn declarations that we were telling the truth on the forms and we might blow the divorce on a legal technicality. I'm not sure what the meaning of this little piece of legalese was.

We got him to take the declarations anyway; it took a little persuasion from the ex, who knows a thing or two about clerking in the courts because she did it herself for a couple of years. The office Bible was taken off the shelf and we both solemnly and sincerely affirmed and attested that we hadn't told any porkies in our divorce application. Which we then took back up to the Federal Magistrate's Court - It's definitely leprosy, it feels like my little finger is going to drop off any minute now - back through the metal detector and downstairs to the registrar's desk. Once there, we took a numbered ticket from the machine on the wall and sat down to wait. For entertainment there was one out of date copy of the Australian Women's Weekly and a television set, tuned to Channel Seven. They were showing a repeat of Home Improvement.

My mood wasn't improving any. I read the Women's Weekly until I was bored by it - which happened about half way through the article on Philippe Starck, I think - then watched Tim, the Toolman, Taylor having his weekly chat with Wilson across the back fence. To relieve the monotony, I decided to slip in one last blaze of silent, smouldering rage at the bitch hag from hell who'd ruined my life but, on further reflection, decided that this was not a good idea. Finally our number was called, and we sat down with the registrar who would finally put our details into the computer system and give us a hearing date.

He was a cheery, friendly sod. "What can we do for you today?" he asked blithely.

"We've come to get a divorce." answered the ex.

"And you've come in to do it together. How sweet!" he frothed. Any minute he was going to start reading off the chef de magistrate's specials for the day.

"Well, we were both there at the wedding, we decided we should both be in at the end," the ex responded, totally unaware that I had a neuropathic disease creeping upwards from my foot towards my most precious parts - they have a certain sentimental value if nothing else. I also had a bit of a rage hangover which I was artfully concealing beneath an air of studied indifference.

The clerk tapped on his computer keyboard, explaining as he did that he was listing our divorce for hearing in a few weeks. Whether we turned up for it or not was up to us. He announced the date and was nonplussed when we exchanged a look and both laughed. He asked us what was funny, remarking that he hadn't seen too many people laughing about their divorce proceedings.

"Look at the date on the marriage certificate," hinted the ex.

"Oh. It's your anniversary. To the day. Which anniversary would that be?"

"Full metal jacket." I answered, reviving an old joke that had seen us celebrate a blu-tack anniversary, a gaffer tape anniversary and, one particularly prolix year, a two-pack epoxy resin anniversary. "Definitely full metal jacket."

We carried on making up anniversaries - high density polyethylene and styrofoam were both mentioned - until the forms were all stamped and signed and our copies handed back to us, three people briefly brought together by having a funny story to tell. Then the ex and I left. She headed off to East Melbourne and I caught the train home. We spoke over the telephone on the date of the hearing and she asked if I was actually going to blog it, as we'd discussed outside the court while parting. You really should she said. She said so again, when I called to tell her my Certificate of Divorce had arrived in the mail, on schedule. We talked again today, after she'd seen the first draft, and she offered a few suggestions for improvements, including the best one-liner in the entire piece. Bloody typical.

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