Divorce is in the details | Inquirer Opinion
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Divorce is in the details

The House of Representatives recently approved House Bill No. 9349 or the proposed Absolute Divorce Act on final reading. It is currently awaiting transmission to the Senate, pending questions about the final vote count. I last wrote about the divorce bill three years ago, when it received committee approval (see “Divorce should be an option,” 9/1/21). I was naively optimistic to think that attitudes toward divorce would have progressed in three years. However, discussions around it remain as polarized as ever. I shouldn’t have been surprised; stances on divorce in this country seem to be more ideological than practical. The arguments against divorce remain the same: “It weakens the family,” “God is against it.” Another argument appeals to fear and visions of an anarchic future, care of Sen. Joel Villanueva: “Maybe there will be a drive-thru, a long line of those wanting to get divorced over petty reasons. ‘I didn’t like your hairstyle, let’s get divorced,’ ‘I didn’t like the way you wash my clothes, let’s get divorced.’ That’s what will likely happen.”

To take Villanueva’s feared scenario earnestly, yes I do anticipate that there will be a deluge of petitions for divorce if the bill gets implemented. This is only because there are many couples who have long been living separate lives—most likely with live-in partners—without any accessible option to remarry. Divorce will allow legal recognition of their current relationship without fear of adultery or concubinage and allow their sired children to be legitimized via remarriage. The senator’s concern that people will divorce for trivial reasons does not reflect how divorce has played out in other countries and is simply fear-mongering. (By the way, if my spouse really does want to divorce me over how I wash his clothes, then I say good riddance.)

People argue that annulment should be a good enough option for those seeking to remarry. However, the conditions necessary for annulment are meaningfully different from divorce. Divorce allows for two adults to have come to a mutual agreement to end their marriage via irreconcilable differences. In annulment, there must be an aggrieved party or wrongdoing usually through abuse, fraud, or psychological incapacity. It is more than possible for two functional wholesome individuals to decide, with maturity, that it is best for their marriage to end. Divorce allows for a dignified exit for both parties.

I have read HB 9349 in its entirety, a good practice for any citizen to do if we want to be immune to disinformation. On the whole, I actually find that the process of divorce as it is laid out seems to really encourage couples toward reconciliation, at least as compared to divorce processes in other countries. It requires a 60-day cooling-off period before a trial can proceed, except in cases of abuse or threats to life. Even when divorce is ongoing or has been granted, the couple can request to dismiss the divorce and return to married status without having to remarry each other. The bill directs relevant agencies to develop and implement post-matrimonial programs to strengthen marriage and family life. It also authorizes the Department of Justice to create necessary additional positions for public attorneys under the Public Attorney’s Office to advocate for court-assisted petitioners, thereby allowing couples to separate with minimal resources.


Whether divorce can help people move forward with their lives depends on how the bill, if enacted into law, will be implemented. Whether through divorce or annulment, the infrastructure surrounding custody and child support remains woefully inadequate. Enforcement of child support is weak; we can imagine similar challenges for alimony once it is put in place. We need to strengthen family courts and make them more efficient, as custody issues need to be resolved as soon as possible. It is not divorce per se that harms the child, but protracted disputes that put the child in limbo or worse, put the child in the middle of the parents’ tug-of-war.

When I witness all the energy expended by the anti-divorce camp, I wonder what that many resources can do if redirected to pro-family efforts instead. There can be no marriage without physical and psychological safety. And to feel safe, one must feel that they have options. Instead of limiting people’s capacity to decide about their relationships, why not enrich the concept and practice of marriage so that it becomes a more attractive and sustainable option? I anticipate that the legalization of divorce will lead to more people giving marriage a chance because we will have removed the idea of marriage as a trap.

The discussion on divorce should not stop at being for it or against it. As in any law, the devil is in the details.


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