by Duane Preimsberger


It was the fourth Saturday night in a row that my training officer Almus Stewart and I were dispatched to a family disturbance call at the Jackson residence in the 11900 block of Wilmington Ave. in the Willowbrook neighborhood just south of Watts. As we headed in that direction Almus, who was usually pretty calm, got a little agitated. “Four times in four weeks, that’s an all time record for me, this can’t go on!”

“I remember last week we had Mr. Jackson pack up some of his stuff and leave for a few days, I guess he wasn’t gone long enough --- they still don’t like each other!” I replied.  “We may have to grant them a common-law-divorce;” remarked Almus.  I was still a pretty green rookie and one of the many things I hadn’t become familiar with was a common-law-divorce, so I had to expose my ignorance and ask my training officer for assistance in getting a handle on this new term.


“Common law marriages aren’t legal in California;” Almus began. A lot of folks like the Jacksons don’t know that so they come out here to California and think that if they live together like husband and wife for awhile they’re lawfully wed. Sometimes they’ll even have a ceremony where they invite friends and ‘jump a broom.’”  “What does ‘jumping over a broom’ have to do with getting married?” I asked.


“It’s a tradition that comes down from the days when folks from Africa got kidnapped and was taken into the South as slaves. Since they were considered property and not people they didn’t any legal rights so they couldn’t execute contracts and that included marriage so they’d jump over a broom to show their intentions to make a clean slate

as man and wife together. Another part of the ceremony determined who’s the boss. Whoever jumped the highest would be the decision maker for the couple. The men weren’t encumbered by long dresses so they almost always won!. What they ended up with was called common law marriage, today it’s only legal in a handful of states and California isn’t one of them.”  “So how do we do a common-law-divorce, make them jump backwards over the broom?”


“Buddy-boy, that ain’t too bad of an idea, I’ve never tried that!” Almus chuckled.  “No, you’ll see how I do it, everybody’s got their own version, you may make up your own if ya decide to use it as a tool around here.”  Benjamin Franklin Jackson was seated on his front porch and apparently thought he was in for another respite from his grumpy partner. He had several suitcases at the foot of the porch stairs. “Looks like he’s planning to move on,” commented my training officer.

As we got out of the car, Mr. Jackson came down the steps and greeted us as if we were old friends. “How ya’all doing?" he asked.  "We’re just fine sir, thank you for asking, what seems to be the problem tonight?" I replied.


“Same as always, she say I drink too much and hangs around down at Jacksons Exotic Café more’n I need to! I tells her to get off her big fat butt and clean up the house, do the dishes and wash the clothes ‘stead of watching all that T.V.” 

After that response, Almus looked at me and put his index finger to his lips. “What would you like us to do?’ he asked.  “Well, if’n ya’all could help me get my car out of the garage since she put a new lock on the door, I’ll be leaving for good.”  “Is she home?”  “Hell yes, she be peeking out the window since ya’all got here!”  “Partner,” Almus spoke to me, “knock on the door and get her out here!”


In a matter of less than a minute, Theopolis Turner Jackson answered the door and quickly came out onto the front porch where she immediately began to berate Mr. Jackson as a low-down dirty pool-shooting, whiskey drinking, womanizing, lying, uglier than sin, no account good-for-nothing, hell bound, black assed piece of s--t!  Without even losing a beat, Mr. Jackson responded in way that equaled and probably exceeded her display of animosity.


Almus took advantage of their outbursts and noted that it appeared that the two of them were unable to get along anymore and might want to consider separating for good. It took a few seconds for this bit of information to penetrate the skulls of the two disgruntled folks and when it did they both responded at once; "Hell Yes!!"  Mr. Jackson soon related that all though the two of them had lived together for several years their "marriage" was one with common law origins.


Almus replied in essence that it would make it easier to dissolve their troubled relationship since he was authorized by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to officiate over common law divorces if the two of them agreed to put an end to their relationship and go their separate ways so that never again shall the twain shall meet!  Both of the couple agreed that they wanted to immediately get off the twain!



Almus got a very serious expression on his face with only a slight twinkle that was hard to miss if you didn't know him. "Partner," he intoned in a voice that would make most preachers gasp with envy," go get the Sacred California Blue Leatherette Bound Penal ode from the innermost recesses of our radio car trunk and bring it to me forthwith!"  "I'll be doing that with forth," I replied and within a matter of a few moments I had produced the sacred book requested by my partner.


Once Almus had the Penal Code in his hands he looked at the couple and advised them that he would be asking each of them a series of questions and that they must respond to them individually. They both nodded their agreement to the instructions and I began to witness my first common law divorce. Soon I was biting my tongue and other parts of my mouth as my partner initiated one of the most hilarious escapades I'd ever seen.


He swore them in with a flourish that would have done any court clerk proud and got an agreement that they would tell the whole truth and nothing else, that their marriage was not recognized by the State of California, but none the less they required a formal dissolution of an informal agreement that was to be in no way recorded or codified!  "Dear friends, we are gathered here today to witness the official dissolution of an unofficial covenant between this man and this woman, who from this point forward are no longer subjected to the confinement of a common law marriage! Both parties from this point forward are no longer encumbered by the vows they may or may not have taken to solemnize this extralegal relationship, they are in essence granted a common law divorce by the power invested in me by the State of California and the United States, based upon my oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United Sates and the State of California against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."  'May the disparate partners now place a hand on the California Code Book!" They pressed on either side of the covers and the force held the book upright between their palms.


My partner Almus took a brief break from his sermon because he usually didn't speak that long about anything. Then he got back to business and ended his divorce proceedings; "all those gathered here together who support the end of this common law marriage may signify their support by a loud YEA. Those opposed may register a loud NAY."  "The Ayes have it and by the power invested in me by the State of California I hereby declare that a common law divorce is granted to the two appellants who have gathered here today to put an end to the unrecognized and not so legal common law marriage.  May you all go in peace, Amen!  I'd never been hugged before by two feuding participants before so this was a new and somewhat untested field for me to be in, but Almus had resolved the situation to his satisfaction and also, it appeared to the folks who were having difficulties getting along.


We watched as the garage was unlocked and the really shiny 53 Buick Roadmaster with wire wheels and chrome rear fender wheel skirts headed south on Wilmington Ave. toward the 405 freeway and then on to Louisiana where Mr. Jackson had kinfolks and a probable job as a bayou bartender. His ex-common law wife stood on the front steps of the house watching the car fade into the early evening dusk and I was pretty sure I saw a couple of tears run down her cheeks.  Well buddy boy what'd think of that?  Overall, I thought he'd done a good job of ending our return to's that address.  "Great job partner!"   But maybe he'd taken an extralegal step in resolving a dispute...  One that later on I'd emulate.