“The process is inhumane. It is hurtful to two people who may have at one point loved each other and may have even tried to work it out,” Philippine Senator Pia Cayetano, a prominent women’s-rights legislator, told me. She should know: She’s been through it too.
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This kind of hassle can be avoided for the right price, however.
Michelle, a former classmate of mine who asked that I not use her full name, claims to have paid her lawyer $10,000 for an all-inclusive annulment package that covered a psychiatric evaluation, all the related paperwork and fees, and a guarantee of a favorable decision from the judge, an old law-school buddy of the lawyer’s.
As a 28-year-old middle manager, I couldn’t afford that. It took me a year before I found a lawyer I could afford; my cousin eventually negotiated a fee of $2,000 with a former law-school classmate. I paid this lawyer in installments as my case dragged on.
But you get what you pay for.
Michelle got her annulment in six months. I waited four years.
Michelle only had to appear in court 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. The judge probed for details about the fights I’d had with my husband. He accused me of not trying hard enough to keep the peace in our relationship. When I brought up the allegations in my petition—regarding the abuse and infidelity I’d had to endure—he asked me if I thought that was enough to end a marriage. (My then-husband didn’t show up to any of the court proceedings, which is a way of opposing the annulment petition.) 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.
“You could have chosen your battles better and just stayed quiet,” I remember a friend telling me when I told him what had happened in court. “That judge is going to decide whether or not to grant you an annulment. He is not someone you want to piss off.”
He was right, of course. But I couldn’t see that. 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.