"Everyone deserves another chance in pursuing a life of their own."
Last March 4, the Technical Working Group on the divorce bills of the House of Representatives Committee on Population and Family Relations met for the second time to consolidate the three divorce bills that have been approved by the Committee in a previous meetings.
TWG chairman Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman prepared a consolidated draft bill as the template for discussion to fast-track the process. After going through it on a per provision basis, the TWG approved the consolidated bill as amended during the meeting.
It should be noted that there was only one group among those present, the Alliance for Family Foundation that manifested opposition to the passage of any divorce bill into law citing constitutionality as the reason. This was very ably responded to by Lagman by explaining that based on records, the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution was not to bar Congress from enacting a divorce law despite the provisions on protecting the family as a social institution. This is important because when the Constitutionality of a law is being questioned, the spirit and intent of the framers is always referred to.
I mention this because ALFI is the same group that repeatedly questioned the Constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law before the Supreme Court. I will not be surprised if they do the same when (yes, I am optimistic) the divorce bill is passed by Congress.
I have already written about divorce many times in the past. This time, my focus will be on some of the salient provisions of the bill that was just passed by the Committee since I had the opportunity to be a member of the TWG.
The title of the bill has been changed to “An Act REINSTITUTING Divorce as an Alternative Mode for the Dissolution of Marriage.” This was done in recognition of the fact that the Philippines had divorce practices before we were colonized by Spain, during the American period, and during the Japanese occupation. The new title more accurately captures the Philippine reality about divorce.
In terms of the grounds for absolute divorce, the bill has included all grounds for legal separation under Article 55 of the Family Code of the Philippines; as well as the grounds for annulment under Article 45 of the same law as also grounds for divorce. For the latter, it will no longer be a requirement for the grounds to have existed before or during the wedding rites.
Moreover, the bill has incorporated the following new grounds for absolute divorce:
• When the spouses have been separated in fact for at least five (5) years;
• Psychological incapacity of either spouse under Article 36 of the Family Code, whether or not such incapacity existed at the time of the marriage or supervenes after the marriage;
• Undergoing gender reassignment surgery;
• Irreconcilable differences which is defined as substantial incompatibility of the spouses due to their intransigence or fault by holding on to divergent behavior resulting to the total breakdown of their marriage which could not be repaired despite earnest efforts to reconcile;
• When a valid foreign divorce has been secured by either the alien or Filipino spouse;
• When a marriage is nullified by the Roman Catholic Church or any other recognized religious sect or denomination; and
• Other forms of domestic or marital abuse including psychological, emotional or sexual violence, and economic abuse.
Note that for grounds 5 and 6, there will no longer be any need for Court proceedings. For ground no. 5, the authentication of and registration of the divorce decree with the civil registrar in the Philippines or the office of the Philippine consul abroad where the Filipino spouse resides will suffice. For church annulment, it will only need to be registered with the civil registrar.
This divorce bill contains provisions on summary judicial proceedings that refers to “an expeditious manner of resolving a petition for divorce without regard to technical rules and the petitioner is given the option to be assisted or not by a lawyer.” The following grounds for divorce may be subject to summary judicial proceedings:
• De facto separation for at least five (5) years;
• When a spouse contracted a bigamous marriage;
• Legal separation of the spouses for at least two (2) years;
• When a spouse is sentenced to imprisonment for six (6) years or more, even if subsequently pardoned; and
• Sex reassignment surgery of one spouse.
A six-month mandatory cooling-off period is required after a petition for divorce has been filed to allow the Court to exert efforts at reconciling the parties. This will not be needed for cases of violence and abuse under the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act, or attempt against the life of the other spouse or a common child or a child of the petitioner.
Under the bill, requiring expert testimony will no longer be required unless such is indispensable based on the court’s appreciation.
Custody of minor children shall be decided by the court in accordance with the best interests of the children subject to the provisions of the Family Code that no child under seven (7) years old shall be separated from the mother unless the court finds compelling reasons otherwise.
The Courts shall have the discretion to grant alimony, child support and child custody, and impose contempt of court against defaulting parties. Stiff penalties shall be imposed on any parent who will default in providing the required child support.
Finally, the bill provides for Court-assisted petitioners for those who have personal or real properties that do not exceed two million and five hundred pesos.
Taken everything together, this divorce bill, if passed by Congress into law ensures expeditious, affordable and inexpensive proceedings. By passing this bill, Congress will free those bound in broken marriages.
Everyone deserves another chance in pursuing a life of their own. And perhaps, another shot at love.
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