Monday, January 10, 2011
Help Me Howard: Annulment
What if you ex said, 'I want our marriage declared null and void, wiped off the church records.' Can they do it without your permission? It's called an annulment, and tonight, one woman is asking the Catholic Church to stop. But they won't. Here is Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- In 1985, Wanda Garcia and Israel Lopez were married in the Catholic Church.
Wanda Garcia: "Oh, it was big wedding. A big wedding."
A happy marriage that produced two children. Then, as happens in life, after 13 years, they grew apart, got divorced and moved on with their lives.
Wanda Garcia: "He remarried, and I remarried."
No big deal, till Wanda got this letter from the Catholic Church, saying her ex had filed to have their marriage annulled.
Wanda Garcia: "I just feel very humiliated and degraded by this situation."
Not only was Wanda humiliated, she was irritated that her marriage in the Catholic Church that produced two children could be declared null and void by the church.
Wanda Garcia: "Null and void to me states that it never existed. That's the thing that has me upset, because they cannot say that that never existed, because that marriage did exist."
Wanda responded to the Diocese of Palm Beach where her ex filed the request, telling them an annulment was an insult to her and her children.
Wanda Garcia: "And by them doing that, it's like my kids didn't exist. I didn't exist. What happened to the ceremony?"
A monsignor on the tribunal that will decide whether or not to grant the annulment wrote Wanda, telling her that while the marriage may be declared invalid, the existence of children is acknowledged and their legitimacy is not questioned. Not good enough, Wanda said.
Wanda Garcia: "They are not respecting what I am saying and how I feel, and that hurts."
The church has also sent Wanda a list of 49 personal questions to answer, among other things asking, if you and your former spouse were emotionally stable, if you had a sexually active courtship and sexual problems or infidelity. Wanda says, it's no one's business.
Wanda Garcia: "I am not going through with it. I totally disagree. I totally disagree, and they need to respect me."
But this December letter let her know that the tribunal, made up of four priests, was going forward to decide whether or not to grant the annulment.
Wanda Garcia: "I don't want this to be done. I want them to stop. I want them to leave me alone, the Catholic Church, to leave it as is and everybody moves on."
But can Wanda legally stop an annulment? It's why she called Help Me Howard.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Wanda cannot stop the Catholic Church from annulling the marriage if they want to do that. But don't worry. Legally, it means nothing in the eyes of the law. It will not affect child support, alimony or your legal status in any way. The only impact is within the Church."
A spokesperson with the Diocese of Palm Beach told me all their annulment cases are private and cannot be discussed. But in general, once a tribunal decides to grant an annulment, it then is sent to another diocese to review and confirm. The entire annulment process can take two years, and if they grant the annulment, Wanda can fight it.
Howard Finkelstein: "There are two ways to fight an annulment: you can appeal in the diocese where the decision is made or you can appeal directly to the Vatican in Rome."
Wanda is disappointed that her marriage might be annulled and very disappointed in the Catholic Church for possibly doing it.
Wanda Garcia: "My concern is why the Catholic Church has to erase this all of a sudden. It's sad for them to try to make it sound like it never existed, and that's what really hurt me."
Patrick Fraser: "An annulment can cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000, and if you are not Catholic and wondering why Catholics get a marriage annulled, it's because once you are divorced, you cannot remarry in the Catholic Church unless your prior marriage was annulled."
Been married to a problem you'd like to see become null and void? Don't pray for a miracle. Bless us with the chance to help. We don't have any higher powers, but Howard can reach the law books on the top shelf. If he gets a ladder.