'Divorce respects the sanctity of marriage'


MANILA, Philippines – "They make it so easy for you to get married but they make it so difficult for you to get out of it."

The Philippines holds the distinction of being the only country in the world – aside from Vatican City – that does not have a divorce law. While there are legal alternatives through annulment or the declaration of nullity, they are tedious, complicated and expensive.

On #RapplerTalk hosted by Rappler's sex and gender columnist Ana Santos, two lawyers made the case for the passage of a divorce law in the Philippines. 

One of the practical arguments in favor of a divorce law is it would make the legal process for couples from failed marriages more straightforward.

"We should make the law straightforward. We shouldn't make it difficult for people to fix their lives," said annulment lawyer Evalyn Ursua.

In the absence of a divorce law, there are other options for couples to get annuled. One of the most commonly used grounds for annulment under Article 36 of the Family Code is "psychological incapacity."

Under this, petitioners must show that the marriage was void from the beginning because one or both of the parties were psychologically incapacitated. According to the Supreme Court, the elements of psychological incapacity must exist at the time of marriage although it manifested only after. "It must be so grave and it must be incurable," Ursua said.

The requirements are so stringent that some cases don't meet the requirements, Ursua said, but it is a reality that there are some "creative" lawyers, psychiatrists and psychologists who can be hired for the job.

'Quickie courts'

There are other creative, albeit more difficult ways – such as acquiring foreign citizenship, getting divorced in the country of citizenship and getting that divorce recognized here in the Philippines.

"That's the way our law is. It is easy to get a marriage license, to get married but they make it so difficult to get out. Under the law, marriage should be permanent, so, once you exercise that choice to get married, you can no longer exercise that choice to get out of it. There's no choice there. The law tells you these are the grounds," she said. 

Getting annulled also requires money. There have been reports of the alleged practice of "quickie courts," where petitioners pay their way to shorten the process from the usual one to 4 years to as fast as 6 months.

The complicated process of getting an annulment in the Philippines is one of the arguments that can be made for the passage of a divorce law in the country. 

"We want to improve the system. We don't want people to resort to corruption out of desperation. So you want the law to be straightfoward. We don't want psychologists to corrupt their practice in order to satisfy a client's, a litigant's need to have their marriage ended. We don't want people to go to the judge and beg 'please please please make a finding of psychological incapacity.' If the law is truly straightforward, if the law is truly responsive to the realities of a failed marriage, I believe that corruption would be lessened," Ursua said.

Uphill climb

Like the controversial reproductive health law passed in 2013, the divorce bill faces staunch opposition from the Catholic Church.

A recent survey, however, showed that more people are clamoring for the passage of the law. For the first time, support for the bill grew to a clear majority or 60%. 

In response to the survey, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said "a failed marriage is not an argument for divorce" but rather "proof of the necessity that only mature people enter into it."

Lawyer Ginger Castillo, however, argues that contrary to the position of the Church, divorce does not destroy the sanctity of marriage but instead  preserves the good times shared by a couple. 

Castillo holds the unique position of having represented herself in her annulment case. Castillo said the process was "very traumatic" as it entailed reliving all details of her marriage from the very beginning.

It took her 6 months just to finish the narration of events required for the case. This did not include meetings with her psychiatrist. Castillo said she was lucky that she chose to represent herself since she did not have a hard time discussing the most private details of her married life, and she did not have to pay extra for a lawyer.

"It was very painful because after the pain for everything, you sit down there and you are cross-examined like you are a liar. You are already the aggrieved party. That's why you are here. You already paid for it. You already went through the traumatic experience of drafting your petition, talking to the psychiatrist and here you are, being cross-examined by this person who does not know anything about your marriage and making you appear like a liar," she said.

With divorce, couples would no longer have to go through the painful process of proving psychological capacity but only need to show that the marriage no longer works. 

"That's the problem with annulment – you say that your marriage was void from the start. So, what was that? It's a joke? So I would want to say that my marriage was a happy one – at least for the first 12 years. And I would not want to say that it was a farce because it was real. My children are legitimate under the law. Under annulment, my marriage is void. In divorce, you recognize the marriage as valid. I think you would respect the sanctity of marriage if you go for divorce," Castillo said. 

Data from the Office of the Solicitor General from 2010 to 2011 show that 53% of of those filing for divorce are females. Among all the petitioners, most are in the ages of 21 to 25 and have been married between 1 to 5 years. About 82% have children. Among the cases filed, 94% are granted.

The Gabriela party list has a pending divorce bill in the House of Representatives. Despite growing public sentiment in favor of the bill, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr said it is unlikely it will pass in the 16th Congress.  Rappler.com