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Prison Walls No Ground for Divorce

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MARRIAGE CRIME
Alamy

At age 30, Shannon Moroney had it all. In October 2005, she married Jason, a man that she had known for three years. Their wedding was joyful, celebrated with loving family and friends. She enjoyed the esteem and respect of her colleagues at the high school where she was a teacher and guidance counselor. Her husband was beginning his career as an illustrator. They were fixing up their house, anticipating children some day.

One month later, her world shattered. When she was out of town attending a teachers' conference, police came to her hotel room to ask her to return home. Her house was a crime scene and her husband was in custody after confessing to kidnapping and violent raping two women. The following is an excerpt from Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney (published by Gallery Books, $25 hardcover).

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I checked the next item on my ever-evolving to-do list. It read: Separation? Annulment? Divorce? Three big question marks that made my heart heavy. I had just signed a marriage certificate and now I would have to undo it. I hadn't broken our vows -- Jason had. I felt the depths of this betrayal right to my core. I didn't want to be divorced, but I knew I couldn't stay married either. I had to protect myself. I was terrified that I would be made responsible for Jason's legal costs, or even his student loan. I sifted through all of our financial documents and in them, found a file Jason had hidden: credit card bills for an account I believed he had closed months ago when we met with a financial planner to consolidate our finances in preparation for married life. Now, looking at a total of over $3,500 on Jason's credit card bill, I reached a breaking point. Suddenly, I became filled with rage and disgust. All of the charges were for purchases of Internet pornography, save one, which was for my birthday gift. How could Jason have watched me work so hard to scrimp and save money for our house and wedding while he accrued debt by purchasing filth? How could he have destroyed everything we had and deceived me like this? How could he have assaulted those women? As I sat on the floor of the living room, bills spread out around me, anger pulsed through my veins with so much force I thought they would burst.

The phone rang. An operator's voice. Would I accept a collect call? Jason. I was livid -- on top of everything else, now I would have to pay to tell him how angry I was, not just about this but about everything: how he'd hurt people, how he'd lied to me and betrayed me, how his actions had destroyed everything we'd built together. I accepted the call and laid into him. All Jason could do was apologize; he couldn't fix anything he'd broken. That was left to me.

I was in a perilous situation. I could manage mortgage payments with my salary but there wouldn't be much breathing room without Jason's income. My parents raised me to be fiscally responsible and I had never carried a credit card balance or let a bill go unpaid before, and I didn't want to start now. In my notebook, I made a list of things I could sell if I needed to: Jason's bike, a set of weights, some DVDs. We didn't have any expensive electronics or jewelery. I placed some unopened wedding gifts in the car with the gift receipts taped to them so that I could return them for cash. No matter how I looked at things, the total didn't come close to balancing what was owed on Jason's debts.

I wrote to Jason demanding further accountability. He responded with a shame-filled apology, explaining that he had been living in complete denial and fantasy and that there was no excuse. Beyond that, he had no practical way to right his financial wrongs. As an inmate in a provincial jail on remand, he did not earn any wages. He could not work or participate in any programs while in protective custody. Even once he was transferred to the federal system, the highest inmate wage was $6.90 a day. He was given two stamped envelopes per week to write letters. Phone calls were collect only and were long distance. Having the discussions I needed to have with Jason were costly any way I looked at it. Yet the cost of not being in contact would be even higher. Without those discussions, I would be left without answers, apologies, or accountability. I decided I would bear the expenses for as long as I could, for as long as I found being in contact with Jason essential. How long that would be I didn't know.

I called a legal help line and spoke to three different family lawyers. No one had heard of a situation like mine and they were hard pressed to give me advice. I was given the name of a local lawyer. He explained the bases on which I had grounds for a divorce in Ontario: separation for a minimum of one year, adultery, and cruelty. The latter two would require entering a legal process for which Jason and I would each have to hire a lawyer and go to court to testify in front of a judge. I would have to prove that Jason had been cruel and/or had committed adultery, and despite his confessions, until he was convicted in a criminal court I wouldn't actually have the proof needed for a family court. I didn't think I could wait on tenterhooks through a year of separation to gain legal protection. What if Jason's creditors pursued me? The lawyer suggested that I contact the officiant who had married us to see if an annulment was possible.

The word annulment pressed on my heart: a marriage that had never happened. The part of me that still loved Jason wanted to hold on to that month that we'd had, but I couldn't afford to be sentimental. I called the lay minister who'd performed our marriage ceremony. She had read about what happened in the papers -- Jason had seemed like such a lovely person, she said. She was very sorry. I made an appointment to see her. When I arrived at the church office, she said we'd be meeting with the head clergy, a more experienced woman who knew about annulments. The head clergy arrived a moment later. She too said she'd read the newspaper articles, but concluded that Jason was a monster. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The clergywoman continued: "It is presumed that your relationship was consummated in the one month you were married or in the nearly three years you were in a common-law relationship, so there is no way to get an annulment. Divorce is your only option."

Her eyes fixed on mine coldly. "I guess you'll make a better choice next time."

Anger shot through me and I leapt to my feet. "How can you call yourself a spiritual leader when you are so quick to judge? You don't know anything about me. I didn't come here to be chastised -- I came for help."

I headed for the door, passing the lay minister on my way out.

I'm sorry, she mouthed weakly.

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At the end of a two-and-a-half year court process, Jason pled guilty and was declared a Dangerous Offender and sentenced to an indeterminate period of incarceration -- Canada's highest penalty. After personally discovering the lack of help available for families of criminals, Shannon became a restorative justice advocate who speaks internationally on the ripple effects of crime. A volunteer with Leave Out ViolencE (LOVE) and Peacebuilders International, she is also a contributor to The Forgiveness Project.

Her memoir, Through the Glass, became an instant best-seller when it was released in Canada in 2011, and it is now published internationally. Shannon lives in Toronto where she is happily remarried and the mother of infant twins. Visit her at www.shannonmoroney.com.