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Wednesday, February 16

Annulment and Divorce in the Philippines

In the Philippines, unstable marriages are frowned upon. Husbands who choose to leave their wives are flippantly pronounced as irresponsible while wives who decide to step out of their marriage are judged as self-centered and bear the brunt of the blame for the failure of the marriage. 

Generally, failed marriages are a stigma in Philippine society. Wives are expected to kowtow to what her husband dictates, and sacrifice everything to have a stable marriage, turning a blind eye to illicit affairs, verbal abuse, beatings and all. A lot of data has already been churned out regarding abuses occurring in marriages but these results mirror just a small speck of reality. A lot of women hide behind a fa├žade of ‘white picket fences’ to mask the sad state of their marriage for fear of being thought of as failures. This means it is society that pressures wives to turn a blind eye on anything that may wreck the marriage, accepting their ‘fate’ in life.

Declaring that a marriage has broken down is generally a disgrace in Philippine society. In fact, it is difficult to find a legal remedy to a broken marriage. The only solution allowed by the Family Code is the annulment of a marriage (on option eagerly utilized by showbiz couples who want to get out of ill-advised, broken marriages). A married couple whose relationship has broken down can file for an annulment of their marriage. In simple terms, this means the couple wants the courts to declare that their marriage had never taken place. Ever. An annulment burns that piece of paper called a Marriage Contract and blows it to the wind. It also allows the pair to freely enter into another marriage.

An annulment is different from a divorce. A married couple that divorces accepts that they entered a union; but has now decided to end it; and go their separate ways. Divorce changes a couple’s status from being M (Married) to S (Single), allowing them to have the choice of entering once more into another marriage. Divorce, as an option, is not available to married couples in the Philippines at present.

A law allowing divorce is not included in the Family Code. Although there is a divorce bill filed in Congress, it has few overt supporters among lawmakers. This reluctance to support the passing of a law allowing divorce in the Philippines mirrors Philippine society’s generally negative view on it, fueling the lawmakers aversion to anything that may offend their predominantly Catholic constituents, many arguing that the Philippines is not ready for divorce
The provision for annulment in the Family Code is the only available venue (at present) for resolving broken down marriages. This has caused indignation among progressive women’s groups like Gabriela, who are exposed to cases of marital violence everyday. However, most victims or marital abuse and violence prefer to quietly bear their marital burdens, afraid to upset their families, and unwilling to admit to their perceived ‘failure’ in keeping the marriage strong. 

This distorted perception of a woman’s role in a marriage is irrevocably tied to the issue of annulment and divorce in the Philippines. It is one of the many stumbling blocks towards having the “option to avail of remedies that will pave the way for the attainment of their (women’s’) full human development and self- fulfillment and the protection of their human rights”.

The difficulty in obtaining an annulment and the absence of divorce has certainly brought a lot of pain and unnecessary social consequences for those who are in the middle of this situation. It is our hope that ordinary people who are trapped in broken marriages are able to find justice and fairness in the legal arena soon.

If you are thinking of getting an annulment and needs legal advise, send me email at wenchiesabban@gmail.com .

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