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Guilty of adultery, concubinage, or bigamy

/ 12:09 AM November 02, 2015

AN AVERAGE of 500,000 marriages take place each year in the Philippines. There are no available data on the number of marriages that end in breakups, but a prevalence of marital breakups is observed among young couples and overseas Filipino workers, and in the ranks of our poor who constitute the majority of our population.

Among developed countries, marriage-breakup statistics average 40 percent. There are claims that Philippine figures are not far behind, but even if we conservatively assume a 20-percent breakup rate in our country, we have 100,000 broken marriages every year. Notwithstanding these numbers, only 10,000 petitions for marriage dissolution are filed in court each year.

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The Philippines is now the only country in the world that prohibits divorce, the Vatican excluded. With the number of marriages ending in breakups each year, the lack of a divorce law is creating an unnoticed social disorder and a serious malady in family relations. It is forcing second-chance spouses to cohabit as criminals, and producing innocent children branded by law as illegitimate offspring. (As an aside, there should be no illegitimate children under the law, only illegitimate parents at the most.)

Instead of divorce, what we have is a law that allows a marriage to be declared “null and void”—nonexistent from the beginning—because one spouse (or both) is “psychologically incapacitated” to perform the obligations of marriage.

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This concept of “psychological incapacity” was copied from the Catholic Church canon law that allows Catholic marriages to be declared void on this very same restrictive ground. This Catholic canon became part of Philippine law because of the strong fear of election damnation instilled in our politicians by the Catholic Church.

The law does not define what kind and quantity of evidence would amount to “psychological incapacity.” Sometimes courts have allowed infidelity, drug use, and physical/psychological/economic abuse as sufficient grounds to declare a spouse psychologically incapacitated. At other times, courts have not allowed these same mentioned grounds as enough reasons to declare a marriage null and void.

The unpredictability in court decisions is largely a result of the infinite levels of severity (from slight to grave) of the alleged “psychological incapacity” of the erring spouse, thereby allowing factors such as the judges’ personal bias or conservative religious beliefs, and even, as whispered around, incidents of corruption to play pivotal roles in tipping the balance either way.

The marriage annulment process has been described variously as “notoriously complicated,” “torturously convoluted,” and “prohibitively expensive.” The total cost incurred for attorney’s fees, psychologist fees, and court-related expenses is not less than P250,000—an amount unimaginable to the poor and even to a large segment of our middle class. The cost can reach up to millions of pesos for the rich, depending on a variety of issues like poles-apart positions on division of property and child custody. In most instances, the amount spent by spouses in their extravagant wedding would be comparatively less compared to the amount they would spend to dissolve the marriage.

The consequence of this prohibitively expensive process is to make marriage annulment completely unavailable to the poor. As a result, the poor just pack up and leave the conjugal home, move in with a new partner, and produce children out of wedlock. Having cohabited with a new partner without dissolving the first marriage, they are branded by the law as criminals guilty of adultery, concubinage—or even bigamy, when they remarry without a prior marriage annulment.

With the law treating their second-chance cohabitation as a crime, their children branded as bastards, and society despising them as outcasts, the cohabiting poor and their offspring become second-class citizens with inferior rights.

An illegitimate spouse is not entitled to any part of the property, retirement pay, death benefits, and even the cadaver of his or her still paper-married spouse. On the other hand, their illegitimate children get only half of the inheritance of a legitimate child. But more than the economic costs, the emotional harm to the second-chance life partner and the illegitimate children is immeasurable.

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We express revulsion at the caste system of India, not realizing that by making marriage dissolution unattainable for our poor, we have created in our own country a lower caste of people consisting of illegitimate spouses and illegitimate children with lesser rights under our laws. And their numbers are multiplying.

The preservation of the sanctity of marriage is the avowed intention behind the prohibition against divorce and the adherence to a strict brand of religious law that makes marriage annulment available only to the rich. However, an accounting of this policy’s effect on families and society in general should be made because there is growing evidence that all it accomplishes is to criminalize poverty.

The Iglesia Ni Cristo meddles in the choice of political leaders. The Catholic Church interferes in the choice of a spouse. If there is any psychological incapacity that should rightly be subjected to court trial, it is the Philippines’ failure to perform its constitutional obligation to enforce the separation of church and state.

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Comments to [email protected]

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