Marital purgatory

Ana P. Santos, Aurora Almendral

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Marital purgatory
When you remain married only on paper, it feels like you are languishing in marital purgatory

(READ: Part 1: The annulment business)

(READ: Part 2: Cotabato court issues spurious annulment documents)

(READ: Part 3: Cavite: Haven for paid-for annulments?)

(READ: Part 4: Bribery in annulment mills)


MANILA, Philippines – Evelyn* had all the makings of a good life. She and Tony*, her college sweetheart, had gotten married just as everyone predicted they would. They were starting a family and building a home together.

May anak kami, may yaya. Pareho kaming may trabaho. May hinuhulugan kami na bahay, kumpleto gamit namin. Kumpleto lahat,” she recalled.

(We had a child, we had a nanny. We both had careers. We were paying for our house, it had everything we needed. Everything was complete.)

Evelyn could not ask for anything more. The third party, she said, was totally unexpected.

Tony seemed to be spending less time at home, but he blamed that on work, not on his unhappiness.

There was no fighting. No physical abuse. Tony had fallen in love with someone else and did not want to be married to her anymore.

Evelyn could not accept that reason – not without a fight. Evelyn fought to keep her marriage intact and her family together.

Hinabol ko. Nagmakaawa ako. Lahat talaga ginawa ko para ma-save ‘yung marriage,” she said. (I ran after him. I begged him. I did everything I could to save the marriage.)

It seemed that the more she ran after him, the more she chased him away.

Tony was unfeeling and detached, humiliating her attempts to win him back. He had his mind set on starting a new life abroad, with his new partner who was already pregnant.

The one-sided rescue mission she waged took its toll. Evelyn lost friends, lost weight and a little bit of herself.

Yung personality mo, mawawala. Yung self-confidence mo, wasak. Kasi yung mismong pinagkakatiwalaan mong asawa mo na poprotekta, siya pa yung nagsisira sa ’yo.

(You lose your personality. Your self-confidence is trampled. The husband I believed would protect me was the one who ruined me.)

Other things began to crumble. With Tony no longer paying for his share of the mortgage payments, Evelyn had to give up their house. It was either the house or their child’s tuition.

Their child was 3 years old when Tony left them. The first time their child heard her Daddy’s voice, she was in high school, when she found him online and made contact with him.

From what Evelyn heard, Tony has made a new life for himself in another country. He and his partner have a home and two kids. He is living the life Evelyn has always wanted.

Tony has moved on while Evelyn is still where she was more than 16 years ago when they separated. Still married – although only on paper – raising their child alone.

Naipit kasi ako. Nakatali ako sa papel na yun.” (I was trapped. I am tied down by that piece of paper.)

Evelyn’s limbo is imposed and guaranteed by legal impediments and financial constraints.

She cannot afford to get an annulment. Any possibility of financial reprieve through salary loans, housing loans and the like were denied her because loan documents require the signature of the husband as a co-borrower.

There were lost chances at starting a new life and reverting to her maiden name.

To both her and Tony, it is clear – it has been 16 years and 7 months since they separated. Only a piece of paper says otherwise.

Below is the English transcript of Evelyn’s recording above:

Hi, c’mon in. Here we are in my humble home. We’re here with my daughter, 19 years old. My one and only child. Thank god. Thank you, Lord, for giving me a loving, obedient child.

She was in high school when she first heard her father’s voice. “So that’s what my father sounds like,” she told me. Then I remembered, she wasn’t even 3 years old yet when he left us.

Our separation was really unexpected. Everything was fine. We were both working, we had a child, a nanny, a home that was complete. But then…a third party came along.

When he met her, I still tried to find a way. I tried to do everything I could to save the marriage. But he was already decided. He didn’t want to try anymore.

He was going to go abroad and he was going to bring the woman with him.

It was so hard but I forced myself to survive. I put my kid through school (by myself), I don’t know how I was able to do it. I was so thin. It was such a sacrifice. I was so down. You lose your sense of being. Your self-confidence is trampled on. The husband I believed would protect me was the one who ruined me.

How many years has it been since we separated? 16 years and 7 months. That’s a very long time. There were many wasted opportunities because I was tied down to that marriage, that piece of paper.

There came a time when I needed a salary loan for my daughter’s tuition and when she got sick a lot. A salary loan requires a husband’s signature. Then there were housing loans, I tried to get one of those, too. But I was still married. The husband’s signature is needed, but what if you’re separated?

Another thing with my situation is up to now, I still carry his last name. Even if I wanted to change my last name, I can’t because we remain married on paper. And actually, I want to change my name. It’s been more than 16 years since we’ve separated. Why do I still need to carry his last name? I take care of my reputation, my family and my daughter who also carries his last name, but he doesn’t care about us anymore. It’s painful on my part. We’ve been separated for so long but up to now, I still carry his last name.

Not everyone who is separated like me can file for an annulment because it is so expensive and it takes so long. We don’t have the financial capacity. I’m employed, I have a high position but I still can’t afford it. With all the other expenses, I can’t sacrifice other things just so I can pay attorney’s fees of P200,000-P300,000.

And there’s no assurance that the annulment will be granted. What if it is not granted? You would have just thrown away money.

Now, I just want to be free. I want to be free from that marriage. Because no one cares. No one wants that marriage that took place more than 16 years ago. But I’m stuck here. I’ve been left alone.

If I could get a divorce, things would definitely be better for me. I could have my own relationship, have my own family. My dream to have a partner in life can come true. That’s important to people. Especially with my personality and character, I want a partner in life, a husband I can lean on, a complete family. That’s the way I am. –

*Names of respondents have been changed.

This story is part of the series, “The annulment business”, on annulment mills and annulment scams. Reporting for this project was supported with a grant from the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation.

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Ana P. Santos

Ana P. Santos is an investigative journalist who specializes in reporting on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and migrant worker rights.