Manila: After extensive deliberations, a key panel in the Philippine Senate has given its nod to a comprehensive measure aimed at introducing “absolute divorce” in the Philippines late on Tuesday.
This groundbreaking development is part of Senate Bill No. 2443, designed to broaden the criteria for dissolving marriages within the country.
The consolidated measure provides for absolute divorce based on various grounds, including five years of separation whether continuous or broken, and commission of the crime of rape before or after marriage.
'Only country in the world' where divorce is illegal
The Philippines is often cited as the "only country in the world" where divorce is illegal, aside from the Vatican City since Malta legalised it in 2011.
Annulment is the only legal route to get out of a marriage for most citizens of the Philippines. The bill secured approval from the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality, which subsequently released a report for plenary consideration.
• The bill seeks to establish an official definition of absolute divorce as the "formal dissolution of a marriage through a legal process carried out by a court."
• Upon the granting of a divorce, the legal status of both parties will be restored to that of single individuals in all legal contexts.
• This includes the restoration of their right to enter into subsequent marriages.
Notable authors of the consolidated bill include Senator Risa Hontiveros, who led the panel, along with Senators Raffy Tulfo, Robin Padilla, Pia Cayetano, and Imee Marcos.
In addition to the five authors, four other senators endorsed the panel report: Senators JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda.
The bill states, “The state shall assure that the court proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable, expeditious, and inexpensive, particularly for indigent litigants.”
Absolute divorce is defined under the bill as “the legal termination of a marriage by a court in a legal proceeding.”
A petition or complaint for divorce can be filed by either one or both spouses, effectively restoring their status to that of single individuals for all legal purposes, including the right to enter into subsequent marriages.
Furthermore, the bill distinguishes between marriage annulment or dissolution, which pertains to marriages solemnised by religious figures or indigenous community leaders, and absolute divorce, which involves court proceedings.
Grounds for absolute divorce
The grounds for filing for absolute divorce outlined in the bill include:
- Five years of separation, whether continuous or intermittent, without a judicial decree of separation.
- The commission of rape by the respondent-spouse against the petitioner-spouse, regardless of whether it occurred before or after the marriage.
- Grounds for legal separation as specified in Article 55 of the Family Code or any other applicable special law.
- A final decree of absolute divorce obtained in a foreign jurisdiction by any Filipino citizen, regardless of their spouse's nationality.
- Irreconcilable marital differences or an irreparable breakdown of the marriage, despite earnest reconciliation efforts, subject to a 60-day “cooling-off” period.
- A marriage annulment or dissolution duly authorised by a religious entity or a marriage termination sanctioned by customs and practices traditionally recognised by indigenous cultural communities or indigenous people to which the parties belong, with the same effect as a court-issued decree of divorce, annulment, dissolution, or declaration of nullity.
Joint parenthood plan
In cases where both spouses have common children and file a joint petition for divorce, they must also submit a joint plan for parenthood.
This plan should detail child support, custody arrangements, and living conditions for the children. The court will approve the joint plan for parenthood alongside a divorce decree if it deems it sufficient to protect the children's rights and interests.
Failure to provide court-ordered child support and spousal support, as specified in the bill, could result in imprisonment and a fine of up to Php300,000.
This approval in the Senate aligns with a similar proposal passed earlier this year.
In February, the House Committee on Population and Family Relations approved a bill instituting absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage in the Philippines.
The panel formed a technical working group to consolidate House Bills (HB) 100, 838 and 2263 before it reaches the plenary for discussion. HB 100, known as the proposed “Absolute Divorce Act", aims to ensure that the proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable, efficient and inexpensive.
The moves by both houses mark a significant progress toward potential divorce legalisation in the Philippines.