DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from "Married? In Arkansas," who found to her dismay that her husband was still married to his first wife, I thought I should write. It happens more than people would like to think.
I have worked for more than 10 years on a divorce court staff, and I would advise all divorced people -- male and female -- to request a certified copy of their divorce decree. This official document is available from the courthouse in which they were divorced.
I know of at least two instances where the lawyers failed to submit the decree of divorce to the judge. It was only discovered more than a decade later. In the first instance, as part of the property settlement, the husband was going to buy out his ex-wife's interest in the former marital home. The provision was triggered by the youngest child turning 18. The mortgage company needed a copy of the divorce decree to refinance the mortgage. Surprise -- both the husband and wife had remarried! They had to go through another divorce proceeding. (It was probably more amicable than the first.) But they were humiliated, not to mention furious at the attorney. Then they had to "remarry" their current spouses.
The second incident was very sad. The parties' son was killed in an accident. In the process of filing a wrongful death action, a copy of their divorce decree was needed. That's when they learned their case had been dismissed for "failure to prosecute." Again, the attorney had not filed the judgment, even though the parties had appeared in court and testified.
Please, Abby, tell your readers if they have gotten a divorce and do not have a certified copy of their divorce decree, to get one now. Most attorneys are hard-working and honest. But it never hurts to have insurance, and this is some of the cheapest insurance they'll ever get. -- CONCERNED COURT REPORTER
DEAR CONCERNED: I'm sure your letter will raise some eyebrows, but you have offered some good advice, and I hope my readers will pay attention to it.