A chapter closes

This morning, at 10:00, Justice Lieb declared Stephen and I divorced, in a Zurich court.

The whole process was mercifully simple, primarily because Stephen and I had a very simple situation: no kids, no debts, no major assets. No one needed alimony, and both of us consented to the proceedings. The Swiss divorce situation is also very carefully set up to prefer a “no fault” divorce if at all possible.

Because of the language barrier, the complexity of almost any interaction with the courts, and our mutual desire to ensure that the divorce would hold water later, we did engage a lawyer. Stephan Buchli was fantastic – he spoke excellent English, was kind and friendly, was willing to do the legwork on some papers we needed from various branches of the Swiss bureaucracy (but also advised us that it wasn’t too hard to do ourselves if we wanted to spare the cost), and had no problem with the minor complications that did in our otherwise simple case.

Those complications were twofold: first, we hadn’t been in Switzerland long enough to have accumulated all of the requested paperwork to prove that we were each financially independent, and not requiring of maintenance. This was solved by sending Stephan all the paperwork that we could easily muster, and him passing it on to the judge, with an explanation, ahead of our court date. The second complication was that, since we hadn’t been married (or in Switzerland) long enough to have accumulated significant pension benefits during the marriage, we wanted to opt out of the normal requirement that pension funds accumulated during the marriage be split equally. This was primarily to avoid paperwork and hassle, although technically Swiss law requires that the accumulated pension benefits be split. Stephan added the necessary bits to our Scheidungsprotokoll (divorce agreement), and again, explained the situation in advance to the judge.

Once we turned up at the court, the whole thing took about half an hour. The judge introduced herself, the stenographer, and her assistant, as well as introducing the interpreter and reminding her of her obligation to provide a true and accurate interpretation. Somewhat scarily for me, the judge spoke Swiss German throughout, although in the end I was able to handle it just fine, she didn’t seem to have any problem with me answering in High German, and I only needed the interpreter once, when I was on the spot and fell back to English.

First, with both Stephen and I present, the judge asked me to confirm various relevant details: my name, date of birth, address; the fact that I had signed the Protokoll, that I still wanted a divorce, and that I was doing this with due consideration and of my own free will. She went through various details of the divorce agreement one by one, too. The only stumbling block arose when she read out the date of marriage as 15th November 2007, which I corrected to 14th. She double-checked that she had understood my correction, and accepted it, acknowledging that I knew better than she :-)

Then, she asked Stephen to confirm all the same details. Of course, he confirmed the date of marriage as 15th November, at which things got confused. I mentioned that I had the marriage certificate with me, and the judge came over to look at it. I dropped back to English and explained to the interpreter that we had been legally married on 14th November but had celebrated a religious service on the 15th. The judge seemed happy enough with that, and I think having the marriage cert helped.

Once that was all sorted out, she asked Stephen to leave the room, and reconfirmed that I had considered things carefully and wasn’t under any compulsion. It was barely a minute before I was sent to switch places with Steve, and I assume he was asked the same things :-) About 2/3 of the way through that time, I wondered what was taking so much longer for him, until I realised everything was being interpreted, which obviously slows things down.

Stephen and the interpreter came out together, while the judge considered the case. After several minutes, the stenographer called us back in, and the judge pronounced the divorce. She explained the judgement, went through the Protokoll once more, as well as the various other parts of the pronouncement (covering costs etc). Finally, she explained that each of us had ten days during which to change our minds and appeal the judgement, after which the judgement would become legally binding. She offered each of us, one after the other, the opportunity to waive that period, which we each did. Finally, she declared the divorce binding immediately.

There are still a few bits of paperwork to tidy up, and bills to pay, but all of the hard stuff is done. Switzerland used to require a two-month waiting period, followed by confirmation that the couple still wanted to divorce, but that’s no longer the case. We should have the final decree within a couple of weeks.

I haven’t worked out yet how I feel: relieved, exhausted, saddened, freed. Chastened that I didn’t listen, and grateful for what I had. Looking forward to the future, whatever it may bring, although somewhat dreading the paperwork surrounding reversion to my maiden name. And honestly? Kind of proud at how well I managed half an hour of legal proceedings in Swiss German :-)

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