Proposed Divorce Law in the Philippines

The Philippines is one of only two countries in the world that does not allow divorce as a means to end a marriage. The other, being the Vatican. On March 19, 2018, the House of Representatives passed a third and final reading of House Bill 7303, also known as “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines.” The bill, however, has no counterpart in the Senate.

Under the bill, absolute divorce may be granted on the same grounds as legal separation and annulment, in addition to the following:

  • Separation for at least 5 years at the time the petition is filed, with reconciliation “highly improbable,” except if the separation is due to the overseas employment of one or both spouses in different countries, or due to the employment of one of the spouses in another province or region distant from the conjugal home
  • Psychological incapacity of other spouse as defined in Article 36 of the Family Code, whether or not the incapacity was present at the time of marriage or later
  • When one of the spouses undergoes gender reassignment surgery or transition from one sex to another
  • Irreconcilable marital differences and conflicts resulting in the “total breakdown of the marriage beyond repair” despite the efforts of both spouses

The bill is meant to help underprivileged spouse who cannot afford the high fees for legal separation or annulment, and are therefore trapped in unhappy and sometimes abusive marriages.

What makes it different from legal separation and annulment?

In a legal separation, the couple is still considered married, and cannot remarry. They can only divide their assets and live separately. The spouse who is found to be at fault cannot benefit from the profits generated by their property. The petition can be filed by either spouse within five years when the ground for their separation occurred.

A civil annulment takes it a step further by dissolving marital relations between two individuals. However, it can only be granted on the limited grounds provided under the Family Code of the Philippines, as amended. Once finalized, both parties will be allowed to remarry.

Absolute divorce expands on the current grounds for legal separation and annulment, as mentioned earlier. While annulment is granted on grounds that compromised the marriage at the time of its solemnization, absolute divorce may be granted on grounds that occurred later on in the marriage.

It will also be more affordable – the petitioner can file with the court, which can waive filing fees and the costs of litigation for indigent divorce applicants. By contrast, a civil annulment can cost up to Php 500,000, including the lawyer’s acceptance fee, filing fees, and other incidentals.

Not new to Philippine culture

Divorce is currently prohibited for Filipino Christians, but Filipino Muslims can get divorced under Islamic law. This is because Muslim marriage falls under the Muslim Code and not the Family Code. Divorce was allowed in the Philippines during the Japanese and American occupations, and dates back to the pre-colonial period, during which a number of ethno-linguistic groups practiced absolute divorce.

It wasn’t until 1950 when the Civil Code took effect that divorce laws in the country were repealed. The Civil Code only allowed for legal separation and relative divorce, with the exception of Republic Act 394 which allowed absolute divorce for Muslims who have resided in the country’s non-Christian provinces for over 20 years.

In cases of a mixed marriage between a Filipino and a foreign national, divorce that has been secured abroad by the foreign national is recognized by Philippine law and allows both parties to remarry.

Criticism and other efforts to legalize divorce in the Philippines

The legalization of divorce in the Philippines faces staunch opposition from the Catholic Church and conservatives. Other efforts to institutionalize the dissolution of marriage have been criticized by as an attempt to destroy the sanctity of marriage and family.

Under the bill, divorcees can be entitled to equal division of shared assets, financial support from the employed spouse if either party is unemployed for up to a year after the finalization of the divorce, and financial support for children.

 

For more information, talk to Duran Duran-Schulze Law at info@duranschulze.com or (+632) 478 5826.