Legalizing Divorce: A Path to Better Mental Health for Filipino Families? 

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20 June 2024

Writer and Researcher: Tobey Calayo
Digital Moderator: Tobey Calayo, Ian Stephen Velez
Creatives: Krystle Labio, Jia Moral, Mitzy Sabellano 

 

Last May 22, 2024, the House of Representatives approved, on third and final reading, House Bill No. 9349 or “An Act Reinstituing Absolute Divorce as an Alternative Mode for the Dissolution of Marriage.” As the only country besides the Vatican City State where divorce is not yet an option, [online] discussions have flooded with arguments both in favor and against the topic. Some argue for the sanctity of marriage, while others advocate for personal freedom and second chances. 

While the divorce bill is a topic on a hot plate, the existence of irreparable marriages beyond resolution is not up for contention. Navigating divorce in a family is surely a hard one, but staying in a home lit on fire isn’t any easier – from heartache to healing, divorce finds an intersection with everyone’s mental health.

On the history of divorce in the Philippines

“Don’t want [a] divorce? Then don’t get one! But let others have a second chance in life.” a tweet from Senator Riza Hontiveros in 2019. 

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country where, besides the landlocked sovereign country of the Vatican City State serving as the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, divorce is not yet a legal option. 

In an article from GMA Lifestyle, they highlighted the existence of absolute divorce during the American occupation, and it was, however, repealed during World War 2 and the Japanese Occupation. The passing of the Civil Code in 1950 only saw legal separation as an option.

A unique combination of legal restrictions and cultural influences marks the history of divorce in the Philippines. As said, the predominantly Catholic country developed from more than 300 years of Spanish colonial Theocracy and honors the sacrament of marriage. This stance on divorce can be traced back to the Spanish colonial era when the country was governed by Catholic principles that emphasized the indissolubility of marriage. The only major exception to this rule is for Muslim Filipinos, who are governed by Sharia law and can obtain divorce through their legal system.

Despite the absence of divorce, other forms of marital dissolution, such as legal separation and annulment, are available but come with significant financial and procedural hurdles. Legal separation allows couples to live apart and settle matters like child custody and property, but they cannot remarry. Annulments, which declare a marriage null and void as if it never existed, require proving specific grounds such as psychological incapacity, fraud, or lack of consent. 

 

These processes are often lengthy and costly, making them inaccessible for many Filipinos. Over the years, there has been growing advocacy for the legalization of divorce, citing the need to provide an escape for individuals in irreparable and harmful marriages.

 

On Divorce and Mental Health

From 2001 to 2014, the annual number of nullity and annulment cases in the Philippines almost tripled from 4000 to nearly 12,000. In the Philippines, a ‘marriage crisis’ has been dubbed partly due to the rise of cohabitation over marriage, as cohabitation has a relatively easier and lower cost of separation.

Victims of abuse, those who are in financial damages beyond repair, and grounds alike in legal separation are reported to outline the grounds mentioned in HB 9439: divorce provides not only a legal exit but a chance for a new life. 

Over the years since 2005, the Social Weather Stations have implied that the community is more accepting of divorce for couples in inreconcilable relationships. 

The passing of absolute divorce is a necessary path of healing for those who are in irreparable and unacceptable marriages – the bill seeks to save and provide a fresh start in life to those who are in all ways abused and neglected in marriage; it does not serve to satisfy unwarranted exits in marriage. While the approval of the divorce bill would allow anyone to file for divorce, it ensures that only those with legitimate grounds, such as severe hardship or abuse, will be granted relief. 

Session Questions:

  1. (Self) What are your [personal] stories related to irreparable relations? What is your opinion on divorce?

  2. (Society) Do you think legalizing divorce will reduce the stigma around seeking help for marital problems? Why or why not?

  3. (System) What provisions and considerations related to mental health must be integrated into the divorce legal process to support individuals better?



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