05/10/2012 at 05:00 AM EDT
's mother has launched a legal action against the actress's father in Tennessee, with Mary Elizabeth Witherspoon seeking to annul John Witherspoon's new marriage on the grounds he's still her husband.
John, 70, described as a Nashville-based physician, married a woman named Tricianne Taylor, 60, in January, according to a certificate of marriage attached to the legal papers.
The actress's mother, who goes by the first name Betty, filed a petition for annulment, saying, "No person in Tennessee can marry another while being married at the same time of the second marriage."
"I love my husband and I don't want a divorce," Betty says in an affidavit. "We have been married 42 years. He needs help. He has a problem with alcohol. He also has a problem with hoarding, which led to our separation" in 1996.
Since then, "We have lived in separate households," she says.
According to the papers, John is an ear-nose-and-throat specialist who recently was "let go" from the medical practice due to personal problems, which Betty claims also include depression that worsened when his mother died in 2003.
Betty, a retired nurse and university professor, found out about the marriage from a wedding announcement in the local newspaper.
"When I confronted my husband, he said he didn't know who Tricianne Taylor was and that he did not remember getting married," Betty says in the affidavit.
John tried to bring Taylor to Reese's wedding
to Jim Toth in March 2011, Betty claims in the filing, but security would not let Taylor in because she was not on the guest list.
Betty says she worries that Taylor will attempt to borrow money or "transfer marital assets" and that she tried contacting the woman.
"She refused to talk to me," says Betty. "I wrote her a letter stating that John Witherspoon was married and had two children and four grandchildren. I have had no response. But she clearly knows now that she is married to a man who is not divorced."
A lawyer for Betty declined to comment. Efforts to reach John Witherspoon and Taylor were unsuccessful.