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I decided it was time for a serious change in my life, so I saved for a year, sold my car and anything else that could be sold, bought a one-way ticket and left the UK with nothing but my backpack. It was whilst travelling through Laos by motorbike with my best friend that I stumbled across this young Filipino backpacker. I instantly felt she was different from all of the girls I met while backpacking, and we hit it off straight away. Although we went our separate ways shortly after, we kept in touch. After two months, Kach came to visit me in Hanoi for two weeks, where I had set myself up as an English teacher.
She was literally holding my future in her hands, in the form of an annulment decision we had sought for four years. After opening the envelope, she rambled a bit, skimming the contents out loud to fill the dead air.
I had finally gotten out of my long-dead marriage in the devoutly Catholic Philippinesthe only country in the world other than Vatican City where divorce is not legal. Two people can voluntarily choose to love, honor, and remain faithful to each other, but in the Philippines it is pretty much only through death, or the torturously long process of annulment, that they can part. I was a single woman, but I was not free. My name was only half mine—all my identification papers remained in my married name.
Any major purchase I made would be considered conjugal property.
If I got into a new relationship, I risked being charged with adultery and jailed. I was 33 when I received the court decision.
And on the phone that day, I felt like the oldest year-old in the world. Under Philippine law, two people wishing to end their marriage have limited options. They can file for legal separation, which will allow them to separate their possessions and live apart, but does not legally end a marital union and thus does not permit remarriage.
They can file for divorce if they are among the estimated 5 percent of the population that is Muslim and is governed by the Code of Muslim Personal Laws. Or they can get an annulment, which in the Philippines is a lengthy and expensive court proceeding. An ecclesiastical annulment, granted through a Church tribunal, is a separate procedure, without which a Catholic cannot get remarried in the Church.
An annulment ends a marriage, but differs from divorce in important ways. The parties, for instance, must prove that the marriage was never valid to begin with. Under Philippine law, reasons can include one or both parties having been younger than age 18 when they got married, either party having an incurable sexually transmitted disease, or cases of polygamy or mistaken identity.
Divorce has not always been banned in the Philippines. The Americans, who acquired the nation in following the Spanish-American War, allowed divorce, but only on the grounds of adultery or concubinage. Following liberation, however, divorce was wanted again outlawed—except among the Muslim minority—under the Philippine Civil Code of If marriage is essentially a contract, the difference between an husband and a divorce is the difference between declaring the contract null—because, say, it was ed under conditions of duress or fraud—and terminating it.
In the case of marriage, declaring the contract null is a far more difficult proposition. Infidelity and physical filipino, for example, are not on the list of acceptable reasons for a marriage to be declared invalid under Philippine law. Filipino TV host Amy Perez is familiar with the difficulties these rules pose.
Perez married a rock musician inand the couple had a son two years later.
Perez filed for an annulment inand was denied. She appealed and lost. Inthe Philippine Supreme Court declined to hear her case, declaring:.
The most recent statistics OSG provided me, based on a sample of such cases from toshowed that 6 percent of these petitions were dismissed or denied. Why do they have to make it so hard? She declined to give details about how she finally obtained the annulment.
Last year, she married her longtime boyfriend, with whom she has two children. Like Perez, I filed for annulment claiming my spouse was psychologically incapacitated.
My lawyer suggested I try to have both of us declared psychologically incapacitated to double the chances of success, but I refused. I was afraid such a deation would damage my chances of getting a job or custody of my daughter. I wanted a second opinion.
But making such a claim is not an innocuous formality. Trying to show psychological incapacity is an adversarial process in civil court, aimed at proving beyond a reasonable doubt that one spouse was exhibiting behavior indicating an inability to take on the responsibilities of marriage. It means stating in public court all the reasons—both trivial and consequential—why you cannot stay married to your spouse.
It involves psychological tests and, in some cases, witnesses. It encourages a petitioner to exaggerate problems—to declare a once-loved partner an alcoholic as opposed to someone who occasionally came home drunk, or a chronic womanizer as opposed to someone who once had an affair. This kind of hassle can be avoided for the right price, however.
I paid this lawyer in installments as my case dragged on. Michelle got her annulment in six months.
I waited four years. Michelle had to appear in court only once. I spent years using up vacation days for intermittent court appearances. Michelle took the stand to answer only one question: her name. I withstood a barrage of inquiries from a judge.
It was a harrowing experience, forcing me to dredge up years of bad, buried memories. He accused me of not trying hard enough to keep the peace in our relationship. I was too proud to beg the judge to stop his line of questioning, too angry to stay quiet.
I was ultimately taken off the stand because I was crying uncontrollably. I felt like I was on trial, as if I were a criminal. And in the eyes of the Church and Philippine matrimonial law, which is largely based on Church doctrine, I had done something worse than commit a crime. I had sinned. I was reneging on sacred vows.
I had desecrated the sanctity of marriage. He is not someone you want to piss off. He was right, of course. My lawyer later told me the judge had said I was too smart for my own good, and suggested that this was why my marriage had failed. I still did not see how that could warrant shaming me in front of a courtroom full of strangers. When I went through the legal prerequisites of getting married, I was not subjected to such interrogation.
My wife might use that against me. And so the Philippines, the land of no divorce, continues to lay claim to a title no other country wants. Popular Latest.