Filipino Activists Fight to Make Divorce Legal
There are just two countries in the world where divorce is illegal: The Vatican and the Philippines. In this deeply devout Catholic country, views on family and marriage are extremely conservative, which has kept the practice of divorce illegal in the country to this day.
But one group is fighting to change that.
The online Facebook group Divorce Advocates of the Philippines is pushing for change, and they’ve taken their fight to the Philippine Congress.
Maviv Millora is the founder of the group, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. Millora has been married for more than 20 years, but separated from her husband in 2011. Now, she struggles to support her children on her salary as an English teacher.
Unable to afford the high legal costs of separation proceedings and claim child support, Millora started a group on Facebook as an outlet to speak to others who may be in similar situations.
“In this woman’s case, it would be impossible to claim child support because she is still technically married. There’s also the complication that divorce is not legal in the first place, which makes child support difficult to obtain as-is,” says M. Sue Wilson, Minnesota family law attorney.
The group has grown to more than 5,000 members and sparked the creation of two other divorce groups: Divorce for the Philippines Now International and Pro-Divorce Philippines.
Some members joined to vent about their frustration. Others wanted legal advice without having to pay the high cost of a lawyer. But one thing was clear: they were all in favor of legalizing divorce.
The Philippines is one of just two countries in the world that has not legalized divorce – the Vatican being the second. If a couple wishes to dissolve their marriage, they may file for separation, which allows them to have separate possessions and residences. But ultimately, the couple is still considered married.
There are exceptions to the law in cases where a foreigner is married to a Filipino or the couple is Muslim, which represents 5% of the country’s population.
The only other option couples have is to be granted an annulment, a process that is financially and emotionally draining. To be granted an annulment, which would have the same effect as a divorce, the couple would need to prove that the marriage was never valid in the first place.
Some accepted reasons include: mistaken identity, fraud, one or both partners being underage, or one partner is psychologically incapacitated and unable to perform their marital duties. Reasons like physical abuse and infidelity are not grounds for an annulment.
For those who are desperate, they may bribe the judge to ensure the decision is in their favor.
Millora and other members of the group took their fight to the Philippine Congress, marching to bring change.
The timing of the march was no coincidence – a divorce bill was filed that same day by the Gabriela Women’s Party, a grassroots organization fighting for women’s rights.
The filing marks the fifth time a divorce bill had been filed in Congress over the last 11 years. Advocates of legalizing divorce are hoping that this time is different.
Author: Jacob Maslow