This article was written by Ana Santos and was also published on Female Network.
The Philippines is now the only country without divorce. Here are 9 reasons why we should enact our own divorce law.
It is official. The Philippines is now be the only country with no divorce law. Until recently, there were two countries in the world where there was no divorce—the Philippines and Malta. However, a recently concluded referendum in Malta showed that majority of the devoutly Catholic country were in favor of divorce so their government is now taking the necessary steps to craft their country’s first divorce law.
Now that Malta is joining the rest of the world in legalizing divorce, here are 10 reasons why the Philippines should follow suit.
For couples who want to dissolve their union or live apart, there are two options: legal separation and annulment. A legal separation allows a couple to divide their properties and live apart, but it does not dissolve their marriage, i.e., they cannot re-marry. In annulments and declaration of nullity of marriage, you have to prove that the marriage was invalid from the start according to a certain set of reasons such as impotence, homosexuality, mistaken identity, or psychological incapacity, among others.
Both are options are flawed. In legal separations, everything but the marriage is dissolved. Quite literally, the couple remains married only on paper. In an annulment, you must prove that your reason for wanting to nullify the marriage existed even before the marriage–this requires one to declare and prove that his or her partner is incapable of functioning as wife or husband.
The idea of couples wanting to end their marriages is not a new to Filipinos. As women’s rights advocate Beth Angsioco wrote in her column, “We already have laws for those who only want property settlement, and those with void and voidable marriages. Why not a law for valid but failed marriages?”
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According to Atty. Fred Pamaos, the Philippines once had a law on divorce. “Before the Spanish colonial rule in the early 16th century, absolute divorce had been widely practiced among our ancestral tribes—the Tagbanwas of Palawan, the Gadang of Nueva Vizcaya, the Sagada and Igorot of the Cordilleras, the Manobo, Bila-an and Moslems of Visayas and Mindanao islands, to name a few.”
During the American period and Japanese occupation, some form of divorce was already in place. It was actually the 1950 Civil Code of the Philippines that abolished these laws.
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The Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines allows for divorce—however, with stipulations: namely, a man can divorce his wife, but a woman cannot divorce her husband.
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So you can freely decide to marry someone but it is a judge who gets to decide whether or not to grant you an annulment. An external party—who does not even know the couple–will decide whether or not their differences merit an annulment.
Why is such an important decision—about how the couple should live the rest of your life and with whom be left to a judge?
And yes, there have been cases where annulment was denied to a petitioner like in the case of Amy Perez. She appealed the case all the way up to the Supreme Court who also denied her petition, saying that:
The court also ruled that alcoholism, sexual infidelity and abandonment are not enough grounds to declare a marriage null and void.
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According to the Philippine Commission on Womenwebsite, “physical injuries and/or wife battering remains to be the most prevalent case across the twelve-year period, from 1997–2009, accounting nearly half (45.5 percent) of all reported violence against women (VAW) cases nationwide.”
In the Philippines, spousal abuse and infidelity are not grounds for the annulment of marriage.
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The most commonly used reason for an annulment is “psychological incapacity.” It requires that you prove that your spouse (or both of you) is indeed psychologically incapable of performing the responsibilities that come with being married. In legal terms, that means presenting evidence that proves this allegation. To back up your claim, you need to get a psychological report which can be expensive.
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Because of the separation of Church and State, getting a civil annulment will only mean that your civil union has been dissolved. This is fine if you were married in City Hall, but if you had a church wedding, this means that your church union is still intact. To nullify your church wedding, you need to go through the whole process again, this time with the archdiocese. This action will cost more and take longer.
Many opt to get only a civil annulment, but the drawback is that if you chose to re-marry, you cannot do it in church.
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According to a Social Weather Station survey conducted in March 2011, “50 percent of adult Filipinos agree and 33 percent disagree with the statement: ‘Married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so that they can get legally married again.’” In 2005, a similar survey was conducted which showed that 43 percent of adult Filipinos were in favor of divorce and 44 percent were not.
This shows that the public, regardless of their marital status, is now more open to accept the possibility of divorce.
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The cost of proving grounds for an annulment, such as psychological incapacity, requires the hiring of specialists and the like, which can cost thousands of pesos–not something everyone can afford.
Clare Padilla, Executive Director of EnGenderights, an NGO that provides legal services, pointed out that the current situation [no clear law on divorce] puts wives in abusive relationships in a bind: “Many women end up cohabiting with their current partner without having their marriage nullified. And because of this, some women are dismissed from government service precisely because of these ‘immorality issues.’”
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Divorce—on any law, for that matter—will not destroy the family. It is only the members of the family who can do that. Putting a clear divorce law in place recognizes that some marriages work and some don’t. In cases where a union is more harmful than beneficial, a divorce can be a benevolent and less hurtful way of severing ties with your partner.
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