Supreme Court says foreign divorce is valid

Divorce is a sensitive subject in the Philippines, inviting polarizing opinions if ever it’s brought up. Some, however, believe that the country is slowly warming up to legalize divorce in the near future.

In the mean time, broken marriages have limited options. For many couples who want to get divorced but can’t, they simply live separate lives without the right to pursue marriage with another person. Some choose to stick it out with their partners. Meanwhile, others seek annulment, which can be a tiresome and time-consuming process.

As for Filipinos with foreign spouses who obtained divorce overseas, will the Philippine constitution recognize the ruling and deem it valid? The answer is yes.

What happened?

Supreme Court magistrates voted in favor of Marelyn Tanedo Manalo, a Filipino citizen who divorced her foreign spouse outside the Philippines. Article 26 (2) of the Family Code was cited by those who voted in favor. This article stipulates that:

“…A marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall likewise have the capacity to remarry under Philippine law.”

A lower court, however, said that the article doesn’t apply to Ms. Manalo as the divorce was initiated by her and not by her foreign spouse.

Fortunately for her, the Court of Appeals overturned this decision, stating that it would be unfair for Ms. Manalo to stay married to her foreign spouse when her ex-husband is free to remarry.

The state of divorce in the Philippines

The Philippines is only one of two countries in the world that still hasn’t legalized divorce (the other country being Vatican City). And with the Catholic Church having such a strong influence over policy matters in the country, making any attempts to legalize or even introduce a divorce law to policymakers is an uphill battle.

Recent events, however, reflect that there are shifting attitudes on divorce in the Philippines, especially with the passage of the Divorce Bill or House Bill 7303 in the House of Representatives. There are only two hurdles left: the Senate and President Rodrigo Duterte, who has the power to veto the bill. The latter is a particular challenge, as President Duterte already expressed that he is against the proposed bill.

What’s included in the proposed Divorce Bill?

Under House Bill 7303, “irremediably broken” marriages will be dissolved. Other features of the law are as follows:

  • Indigents seeking divorce would be assigned lawyers and have their fees and litigation waived. A person is considered an “indigent” is his real properties are worth less than P5 million.
  • Divorce applicants are required to undergo a “cooling off period” to last 6 months. This is waived for domestic abuse cases as well as broken marriages where danger is apparent to the spouse or their child.
  • Couples who change their mind and reconcile in the middle of proceedings are free to walk away. The process will be terminated.

Grounds for divorce under the proposed bill include existing grounds for both annulment and legal separation. New additions were also introduced. Under House Bill 7303, you can file for a divorce if:

  • You’ve been separated from your spouse for at least 5 years and are not likely to reconcile upon filing of petition.
  • You or your spouse is declared psychologically incapacitated as defined by Article 36 of the Family Code.
  • You or your spouse underwent a gender reassignment surgery or transitioned to another sex.
  • Your marriage between your spouse is totally broken and damaged beyond repair.

It remains unclear if the divorce bill will be approved by the Senate and the president. Those who wish for its passage, however, can keep their fingers crossed. You can read more about the proposed divorce law here.

Would you like to know more about divorce, legal separation, and annulment in the Philippines? Let’s explore your options. Contact Duran & Duran-Schulze Law today at info@duranschulze.com or (+632) 478 5826.