Monday, February 7, 2011

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Pity the non-affluent married couple in the Philippines when one or both partners have become estranged  and want to break up. They have no way out of their marriage because divorce in this country is prohibited.

The Philippines, which is  predominantly Roman Catholic is one of the three countries in the world where divorce is not allowed (the other two are Malta and the Vatican).  Yet divorce is allowed in other Catholic majority countries such as Italy and in Latin America. Perhaps the reason that divorce is banned in the Philippines is due to the almost absolute control of the Catholic Church here over family matters combined with the cultural trait of fatalism.  The most that the disaffected partners of ordinary means or below can do is obtain a legal separation.  However, this is not really a solution because under this status the couple may be living apart but they are still not be free  to remarry.

Partly as a result of this impasse, infidelity is common; and in the lower classes, people—usually (but not always)  men—often just abandon their spouses and kids and take up with new partners with whom they then have children, leaving their original families to fend for themselves regardless of the deserters' legal and moral obligations to the latter.

But the rules of matrimonial permanence don't apply to everybody here.  Well-to-do couples can buy their way out of marriage by getting an annulment, which is an expensive and complex process.  The difference between a divorce and annulment revolves around a technicality.  A divorce terminates a union  that legally existed.  An annulment, on the other hand  is a legal fiction that the marriage was never valid in the first place and is therefore void. Click here to see the grounds for this type of marital dissolution.

But there's another aspect to class differences regarding legal access to ending a marital  relationship. Not surprisingly, the wealthy  flaunt their ability to obtain their freedom just as they show off their expensive possessions.  For a rather egregious example of this attitude, click here.   Note that in this interview the supposed reason for the end of this marriage is adultery, which supposedly is not sufficient grounds for an annulment. Yet the implication is that the dissolution will be granted anyway. Money just doesn't talk in the Philippines. It screams.

Yet there are other grounds to end a marriage.  For example if a Filipino citizen marries a foreigner who then obtains a divorce in his /her country of origin, the Filipino can apply to have the divorce recognized in the Philippines. This frees the citizen to remarry, but the steps to obtain this waiver are complicated (as are almost all encounter with the legal system here).

Personally, I believe that a married couple should take their vows seriously and not break up hastily. However, it makes no sense for the State to deny  the human condition and force people to remain together if they don't wish to do so, especially if the requirement exists just for the purpose of  pleasing religious interests.  However, there is a ray of hope for a change in the annulment laws. A member of Congress recently introduced a bill to expand the grounds for dissolution and make it easier for the non-affluent to end their marriages.  This piece of legislation faces an uphill battle, especially in terms of opposition by the Church (of course). Yet if it passes, along with the pending Reproductive Health Act these measures will be a tremendous leap towards bringing equity to the members of the socio-economic classes  to whom fairness and the right to make responsible decisions about their personal and family lives have too long been denied.