MANILA, Philippines – This is definitely not a love story.
We all want our happy-ever-afters, don’t we? When we were in high school, we would swoon over our celebrity crushes, dress up nice during soirees, feel good when our prom dates turn out to be handsome young men who treat us like princesses.
Between high school and college would be our crucial love stories – first love, first boyfriend, first heartbreak, next boyfriend/s, next heartbreak/s, until The One. Or so we think.
No one really tells you it is quite ridiculous to marry a year after finishing college, with a possibly good Wall Street career which you stupidly leave because of love. No one slaps you in the face and says, “Wake up girl, there’s still a lot more to experience in life.” No one reminds you that you are an Iskolar ng Bayan so that you can be an asset to the country, and not just a statistic among women who marry right after graduation.
But I admit I am one of those (perhaps many) Filipino women who thought it was the right thing to do – marry after college, have a family, and have my happy-ever-after. I worked for a year in America and then decided to come back, get married, bring the hubby to the US, have children.
Unfortunately, the union did not last. A few years after deciding to come back and establish our own business here in our home country, both of us realized it was for the best that we seek a civil annulment.
There were lawyers involved, a psychological evaluation of both of us, countless meetings, court hearings, emotional pleadings from our parents, shocked reactions from friends. After many years of waiting, the court granted a civil annulment in 2007.
One goes through some psychological turmoil. I know that there is never a right time to go through this. Not early in the marriage, not when the kids are just babies, when they are growing up, or grown up. There is never the right time. But one will have to decide that it is a necessity for one’s own sanity. And peace. You seek counseling, pray a lot, and get a good support system. It is not a good idea to do this alone.
It is a common notion that filing for annulment is expensive. Only those who can afford can get out of a “bad” marriage, and those who cannot afford it will just be stuck in the marriage. Unfortunately it is true.
As I was the one who filed for annulment, I was the one expected to pay for it. The psychological evaluation was done early on and was paid for by the ex. That alone cost a lot – something like P40k, which will tell you that either or both of you are psychologically incapacitated, an acceptable ground for annulment.
The civil annulment, which is different from legal separation (where the couple divides their properties but may not remarry), voids the civil marriage and allows both parties to remarry in civil ceremonies. Cost for this is more than thrice the psychological evaluation. Ouch.
Family courts are the ones that handle civil annulment cases. File it where you or your spouse live. If there is more than one family court judge, they would have to raffle your case. It will help to get a good and caring lawyer, one who listens and makes sure you get a fair settlement.
Your lawyer may also end up as your unofficial therapist as he/she will have to listen to you rattle off about your sob stories and assure you that all will be well.
The Office of the Solicitor General is tasked to try to convince the couple not to go through the civil annulment. Being a predominantly Catholic country and believing in the sanctity of marriage, that is their task.
They will make sure that the couple has exhausted all means to make the marriage work – go through counseling, couples’ retreats, and therapies. They bide time, I think, to make the couple reconsider and hope that time will make them realize that giving it another try might work.
Despite the exorbitant costs involved, couples are not necessarily guaranteed an annulment. And it may take years – in my case, almost 4, to get a favorable ruling. And then if you decide you also want to re-marry in church, a church annulment will be a separate and another expensive process.
When I got the notice through the mail that the annulment has been granted, it was with a big sigh of relief. It was really bittersweet — back to square one, financially, emotionally, personally. It was not cause for celebration, it was time for discernment.
Change of names
Of course I did not know that it was only the beginning of another round of difficulty that I would encounter.
The difficulty of changing my name in official documents, was, to me, a lesson in patience. I have been using my married name for the past 20 years and naturally, I wanted my documents to be reverted to my single name. Besides, that’s what the court ordered: that I was not to use my ex-husband’s name anymore.
First stop was my bank, where I had been a loyal customer since I was a teenager. When I informed the manager that I wanted to change my name from married to single as I had recently been annulled, she asked for proof of annulment; in other words, she wanted to see my annulment papers.
Mind you, annulment papers can be voluminous. Did the manager really think that I go around carrying those papers with me? Of course she was probably just following rules. Well, I decided to close my account.
At that time, I was already on my more than fifth year of teaching, and then was hired by a university in its Public Affairs office. Being an administrative position, and full time, I needed to submit supporting documents, including my civil service certificate which showed my still-married name, along with my other documents – BIR, SSS, Pag-Ibig. So I thought, here goes.
All those identification cards were apparently void. Not only am I now annulled, I also seemed to be void.
Although I had indicated to Human Resources that I had been annulled (yes they asked for my annulment papers and yes I gave them a copy), I was hoping that they would know/understand why my official identification papers and other documents still showed my married name.
Of course I had to submit a written letter explaining the “discrepancy.” The burden of proving to agencies and offices that I am one and the same person was solely on me. I always had to have my passport – still carrying my married name but with my maiden name clearly there.
It was tiring, it was frustrating, and to me I thought it was unfair. If men were annulled, would they go through the same thing I was going through? Is our legal system pertaining to annulment rules not necessarily woman-friendly?
So what did I learn from that whole exasperating exercise?
Apparently, it is legally accepted here for married women to: 1) retain their single name; 2) hyphenate their single-married name; or, 3) drop their single name and use their married name.
I am sure many women marry for love, hence want to use their husband’s name, proudly. I say go ahead, but in official documents, it is wise that your single name is always included. Not only does it give tribute to your father, it will also avoid possible problems arising in the future.
Then there’s the question of changing your name in your passport. That is necessary too. I just got mine changed, and they needed all documents that included the cancelled marriage certificate from the National Statistics Office – which I did not know I had to secure after the annulment was granted. The cancelled marriage certificate from NSO basically states that the marriage never happened. Void.
And finally, the ex. Do not fight with the ex. There really is no point in staying angry. Forgive. Let go. Let all the heartaches and bitterness go. It is healthier for the heart and the soul. It will take time, but it will happen. Eventually you will be glad you have made peace.
For those deciding if this is the next step for them, think things through. Talk to the right people. It will be financially exhausting and emotionally draining and it should be the last option. I do not advocate it, but I fully support it.
I am hoping though, that annulments, both civil and church, be more affordable, and that the legal system, including banks, will be more annulment-friendly to those needing it. – Rappler.com
The author is an educator, volunteer, proud mother of two, proudly Ifugao, and still wants her happy-ever-after. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.