Living in one of only two countries in the world without official divorce laws, unhappy married couples in the Philippines are still fighting for the right to legally divorce. Divorce laws exist in every country except for Vatican City and the Philippines, but a new bill has brought the latter one step closer to updating their marriage laws.
A bill that was recently filed in Congress seeks to establish divorce laws, but is facing strong opposition from some politicians and many members of the Catholic Church. In fact, the absence of divorce laws in the Philippines can be traced back to religious motivations. Divorce was legal in the 20th century prior to the 1949 Civil Act, which was enacted in part due to the church’s power and strong public support for Catholic conservatism.
The new divorce bill is nicknamed “Divorce Philippine-style” because it will have strict requirements for eligibility. Although couples will have to live separately for 5 years or be legally separated for 2 years in order to quality, the bill will make separation more accessible and less costly than the other available methods.
Current laws do permit legal separation, annulment, and declaration of nullity of a marriage, but these options do not allow individuals to fully escape their ex-partner. Legal separation permits the couple to divide their assets and live apart, but neither partner may begin a new relationship without the charge of adultery; annulment requires very specific conditions and a detailed psychiatric investigation; and a declaration of nullity may be granted only if the relationship proves tainted with bigamy, incest, polygamy, or an underage spouse. Although these options exist, they are very restrictive as well as expensive, making them inaccessible to the majority of the Philippines’ population.
The lack of divorce laws has resulted in many Filipino marriages that exist only on paper or as a formality. The new bill would grant residents the divorce rights to legally end their marriages rather than remain trapped in failed or unhealthy relationships. However, the political influence of the Catholic Church may hinder the bill’s chances of passing in the near future.