Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Supposed Former Wife

Back when I was in college, I started dating a girl.

Well... sort of. I didn't really intend to start dating her; in fact, I'd decided not to do anything of the sort. So how did it happen? She had a particularly rough weekend just before the end of the school year. Most of our group of friends were there at that event, but I was the one who happened to see everything come crashing down. In the course of reminding her that this wasn't actually the end of the world, I agreed to meet her for lunch over the summer. Lunches became dates, and by the time Fall Semester rolled around again, we were an item. Girl had become Girlfriend.

That was... let's see... the end of my junior year and her freshman year, going into her sophomore / my senior year.

We eventually married, as people usually do, and Girlfriend became Wife. I had some misgivings at the time, and I should have listened to them more closely; instead, I wrote them off as the usual anxiety about Big Life Changes. And I am, in many ways, a child of seventies; I came of age in the late eighties and early nineties. Growing up, I heard a lot about the importance of communication, and how marriages (and relationships) take work, and like that. So I was actually fairly optimistic, because our communication was excellent.

What we lacked was basic compatibility.

As a result, we could talk about our problems and discuss our areas of disagreement in exquisite detail. What we couldn't do was actually resolve them. So, three years later, we divorced. (Technically, she divorced me; but it might have been the other way around if I'd been less of a coward. On the other hand, I have some reasons for thinking that the way it went down may have been for the best.) Wife then became Ex-Wife.

I'm being somewhat glib here, and skipping over a lot of details; but this time I'm not going to elaborate. Suffice to say that I can be a right bastard, and I probably owe her a lot more apologies than she actually received.

It was actually an amicable divorce, as these things go. However, and I speak from experience here, even an amicable divorce sucks mightily. In our case, we'd spent so much time picking over our relationship in the time leading up to the divorce that by the time it happened I think we were both just ready to move on.

So we went our separate ways. She married someone else, and stayed married to him; he was a bit older, and seems to be a whole lot better for her than I was. (This was a second marriage for him, also.) A little later, I also remarried; we just had our second child. And that, really, is where the story should stop: the crisis is resolved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except that a couple of years after they married, my Ex-Wife and her new husband decided, for inexplicable reasons of their own, to become Catholics. The Church was happy to have them, except that they were, well... {hem} {haw} {cough politely} ...divorced.

That simply wouldn't do. God's word is eternal and immutable, and divorce is simply unacceptable. The only way a marriage can end is if it never happened in the first place. Which brings us to the concept of annulment. Annulment, in Catholicism, is a process in which the church considers your particular case, and decides whether your marriage ever really happened. This serves precisely the same purpose that divorce serves for sane people, except that the Catholic version is vastly more complicated and takes absolutely bloody forever. (No, seriously. At one point I wrote the arch-diocese a letter asking if they'd ever sent me a response; I wasn't sure because I'd moved - twice - since sending in my side of the material. They hadn't. They were still considering it.)

Yes, I participated in the process. My Ex-Wife (as she was then) called me up and asked if I would help. She said it would make the process go faster. I said that, sure, I'd fill out a couple of forms if it would help. I was expecting maybe a page or two, with some basic information and a couple of questions. What I got was an eight page essay test. I was doing okay until about the fifth question, which was something on the order of, "Did you intend to create a good and lasting union?" After that, I kind of went off - not on my Ex-Wife, but on the questions themselves.

Anyway, a couple of years after I filled out that questionnaire, I received a notice that a Declaration of Nullity had been granted. So, evidently, our wedding had actually just been a really expensive party, with a priest acting as the MC. My Ex-Wife was now my Supposed Former Wife. My second wife was now my first wife.

I submit that if you have to refer to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to find the right grammar for what just happened (I think it's Past Proto-PluPerfect Implausible), then something is deeply wrong with what you're doing.

There's one more point to consider, though: the icing on the cake. If Supposed Former Wife and I had happened to have children, those children would still be considered legitimate by the Church. Yes, really. This says to me that even the Church knows that its policy is bullshit.


  1. Were you married in the Church? For me it was quite easy to get the necessary annulment. She didn't even need to sign papers.

    I'm wondering if the Dallas Diocese is a bit less... picky about these things.

  2. Our ceremony was conducted by an Episcopalian priest, whom I knew from my youth. (I was raised in the Episcopal church, though I wasn't even nominally Christian by the time I got married.) I really have no idea why it took so long, and I'm glad it didn't for you. That said, the last time I mentioned it on the snopes boards, a couple of people chimed in with similar experiences... complicated, in at least one case, by a total lack of cooperation from the former husband and his friends/family. Still, that's a handful of anecdotes, rather than any sort of actual data. I have no idea what's typical.

    I imagine that the Archdiocesan Tribunal was happy to be done with me. I didn't bug them often, but when I did I was fairly scathing about it. Of course, it's also possible that my responses were an amusing break from the norm; you just never know.

  3. Appreciate the honesty of this post Michael.


  4. Oh, and it may have been complicated by the fact that I was in Texas while she was in Oklahoma, so it had to go through the archdiocese instead of the local diocese.

  5. Ah ha!

    You see, my first marriage was a JP wedding, no church involved. So, the marriage wasn't recognized in the first place.

    In your case the marriage was recognized as legitimate.

    Ahh, the good old Catholic Church, what with it's being its own state with its own laws and even its own military (Check out their cool uniforms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Group_of_swiss_guards_inside_saint_peter_dome.jpg ... Not very inconspicuous, though ;)

  6. Swiss Guards: They may not be inconspicuous, but they are reliable!

    Also: Thanks, Bruce.


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