The Philippines and the Vatican, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, are the only two countries in the world that do not allow divorce as a means to end a bad marriage. Currently, what the law allows in the Philippines are annulment and legal separation. The annulment option is expensive (costing upwards of Pesos 250,000) which only the rich can afford and a long one that sometimes takes years to process. On the other hand, legal separation does not allow separated couples to remarry.
The new bill recently introduced in Congress titled “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce in the Philippines” was passed on February 21 by The House of Representative. Many Filipinos are hoping this will change the country’s social environment.
Section 2 of the bill, or its declaration of policy, states that while the Philippines “continues to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family,” divorce would give couples a chance to terminate “a continuing dysfunction of a long broken marriage.” Furthermore, the bill hopes “to save the children from pain, stress and agony because of their parents’ constant marital clashes" as well as “grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance at marital bliss.”
However, even if divorce is legalized, married couples can still seek legal separation or an annulment, if they so choose to go either route. It also gives couples an opportunity to have a change of heart. If, in the middle of proceedings, the couple decides to reconcile, the process will be terminated. While the decree of absolute divorce will be set aside, “the separation of properties and forfeiture of the share of the guilty spouse will subsist, unless the couple reverts to their former property arrangement.”
Other provisions of the divorce bill allow those who file for divorce to observe a 6-month “cooling off period,” as a last- effort to reconcile the couple. This is waived in cases of domestic abuse or if there is danger against one spouse or a child. The bill includes provisions for the case and custody of children, protection of the children’s legitime or inheritance, the termination and liquidation of conjugal partnerships of gains or absolute community, and alimony for the “innocent spouse.”
In Civil law and Roman law, the legitime (legitima portio), also known as a forced share or legal right share, of a decedent's estate is that portion of the estate from which he cannot disinherit his children, or his parents, without sufficient legal cause.
Couples who are seeking to terminate their marriages can file jointly a petition for absolute divorce on, among others, the following grounds: de facto separation for five years, legal separation for at least two years, or irreconcilable differences. Those with children should also come up with a joint plan over their parenthood arrangements.
The advocates of the measure in the House claim that as designed, it is pro poor because the process is faster and cheaper unlike the existing law regarding annulment and legal separation. Moreover, as proposed, litigation and fees would be waived for “indigent” divorce applicants. They would also be entitled to pro bono lawyers assigned by the court. According to the measure “indigents” are defined as those whose real properties are less than Pesos five million.
The committee agreed to the request of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) they consulted who, specifically asked that the process be affordable and not cost the equivalent of a worker’s one year's salary. Also, based on the proposal of a committee member, OFWs will be given preference when it comes to hearing their petitions.
According to the proponents, the measure is also pro woman. It provides the wife, who in many cases is usually the more vulnerable and disadvantaged party, as she is the one who suffers in silence long-term oppression and abuse, an opportunity to walk away from an abusive relationship and start a new life.
Four-part series on divorce
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