The urgency of a divorce law

THE House Committee on Population and Human Relations has approved an absolute divorce bill for the Philippines, sending the measure to the floor for plenary debates. Its main proponent, Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay, 1st District), said the proposed law would put us at the “threshold of joining the universality of absolute divorce in the community of nations.”

In short, it will put the Philippines squarely in the 21st century, since it is the only country in the world, apart from the Vatican which is the bastion of Catholicism, that has no law on divorce.

Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman. File PhotoAlbay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman. File Photo

Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman. File Photo
Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman. File Photo

Lagman said a divorce law will give spouses, especially wives, the option of getting out of an “irremediably broken marriage” and a chance to start all over.

“While it is said that marriages are solemnized in heaven, the fact is some marriages plummet into hell because of human frailty and imperfections. The Divorce Act seeks to redeem couples, particularly the abused or abandoned wives, from infernal agony,” Lagman said.

He noted that the proposed law would be for the exceptional circumstances of married couples who are “marooned in toxic, dysfunctional and even abusive marriages, particularly for wives who suffer the torment of irreversibly dead marriages.”

The bill provides that a divorce petition will undergo a judicial process where proof of the cause for the divorce is established and that the marriage has completely collapsed without any possibility of reconciliation.

In short, we will not see weddings here done on Sunday and a divorce the next day, in the cavalier fashion that is done especially in the US. Quickie, notarial, email and other speedy drive-through divorces are prohibited.

There is a cooling-off period of 60 days after the filing of the divorce petition, with the judge exerting efforts to reconcile the parties.

The public prosecutor is also required to probe if there is collusion between the parties, or whether one party coerced the other to file the divorce petition.

University of the Philippines College of Law professor Evalyn G. Ursua has traced the history of divorce in the country. The ethno-linguistic communities of the Philippines before the Spanish arrived practiced divorce. We also had a divorce law from 1917 until Aug. 30, 1950, when the Civil Code of 1950 took effect. The latter law prohibited divorce for Filipinos, and the prohibition continues under the present Family Code.

But Muslim Filipinos have always practiced divorce, which Philippine law allows. Today, divorce continues to be available to Muslim Filipinos under the Code of Muslim Personal Law of the Philippines.

Some think that we do not need a divorce law because the Family Code already provides for ending a marriage through “annulment.” But annulment is a legal term that has a specific meaning. This remedy is based on specified grounds at the time when the marriage was celebrated: lack of parental consent and vitiated consent (as when a person married another at gunpoint). The timeline for annulment expires, and the defect may actually be cured by ratification, when both parties live together freely and of their own volition.

On the other hand, a divorce law will provide a remedy that the Family Code does not. Divorce does not concern itself with the validity or invalidity of a marriage. It ends a marriage based on grounds that happened during the marriage, which makes the marital relationship no longer tenable. This is regardless of the spouses' psychological constitution. In short, a divorce law will provide a straight remedy to doomed marriages.

Lagman said, “Divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to a family. Enduring years of physical violence, suffering emotional abuse, tolerating infidelity, allowing children to live in a hostile home and witness daily discord and constant conflict — these are far worse than divorce.”

Freeing families from the tyranny of toxic relationships will also unleash creative energies that can be better harnessed to help develop this nation. This is now the time for a divorce law.

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