By : Anjelica Solomon
In the first time since the Family Code 1987, The Philippines is facing the closest opportunity it has had in revising the legislative climate around divorce.
Aside from the Vatican, the Philippines is known to be the only other country in the world that has no laws allowing divorce. Whilst Muslim Filipinos married under Islamic Rites can divorce under the Code of Muslim Personal Laws, non-Muslim Filipinos whose marriages took place in The Philippines as of date, are not afforded the same right. In a country where more than 86% of the population are Roman Catholic, several religious groups have raised opposition towards the passing of a divorce bill. Whilst there have been several attempts to pass a divorce bill to varying degrees of success and reception, the Marriage Dissolution Bill (2022), has been the most successful…so far. Currently awaiting its second reading on the Senate floor, the passing of this bill has heightened the curiosities of legal professionals on the effects it would have on marriage dissolution both in The Philippines and abroad.
As of March 2022, 50% of 2,140 respondents who voted in a survey on elections responded that they supported the divorce bill being passed in comparison to 28% who voted not. A further 5.7% stated they lacked knowledge and 16.2% voted they were undecided.
However, Filipinos hoping to separate from their spouses currently have three options: legal separation, nullity of marriage, and annulment. Despite this, parties wishing to separate from their spouse face the burden of satisfying a limited number of grounds with high thresholds of proof, often resulting in high fees and long and timely processes. Additionally, those who follow the legal separation route may not remarry. Grounds often require proof that the other party committed acts ranging from criminal convictions, repeated physical abuse, to ‘psychological incapacity’ causing one party to be unable to perform their marital obligations. Despite annulment being the only legal route to end a marriage for most Philippine citizens, the price to pay is not for most. With most Filipino’s earning an average salary of PHP 161,847.60 a year, or GBP 2319.22, the average price of PHP 150,000 – 300,000 is beyond most people’s means.
It has become apparent to lawmakers that alongside personal and emotional needs for a divorce bill, the cost and length of current separation options is not as reasonable to most.
Unifying Divorce: Where’s the Divorce Bill now?
For legislation to be signed into law it requires multiple, often lengthy, steps. Three separate hearings on separate days must be passed on each floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate House, with each house producing their own version of the bill. Once the bill passes all stages, a bicameral conference committee will reconcile both Lower and Upper House bills in their report. This needs to be approved by both chambers. This enrolled bill, once approved, will then be submitted to the President of the Philippines to await his approval. At this point the President may sign it into law or veto the bill, sending It back to Congress. If the President does not act within 30 days of the receipt, it will still lapse into law.
Currently, the Senate bill has passed the first reading. Previously, before the latest election, the House of Representatives approved of a divorce bill on the third reading whereas the Senate bill failed to pass committee level. With the new term proving a more promising chance, and with endorsement from Senator Risa Hontiveros and the Senate Committee on women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, The Philippines is witnessing its closest chance at a divorce bill approval.
What does this mean for British Citizens?
As early as 2018, a divorce validly obtained abroad and initiated by a foreign spouse (including naturalised citizens) has been legally recognised in The Philippines so long as it has been judicially enforced or confirmed through a proper civil action at the Regional Trial Court in the Philippines (RTC-Phil).
However, whilst the decree of remarrying under foreign divorces are generally respected by Philippine courts, it is important to note that any assets or property acquired in The Philippines under conjugal property must be dealt with by Philippine law. Often, a separate legal separation filed in The Philippines may be advised when dealing with the separation of assets, or children. There are also possible legal frameworks under foreign jurisdictions which may not easily transfer under Philippine laws which may make a straightforward foreign divorce more complex.
In the current Senate revision of the Dissolution of Marriage Bill it states that whilst either or both spouses may seek judicial recognition or enforcement of the foreign divorce it is provided that the spouse uninvolved with the divorce proceedings may seek a relief under Philippine law in respect to the incidents of judgement. With both current divorce house bills recognising foreign divorces, it is more than likely that a consolidated bill signed into practice would also do the same. This means, for any British (and foreign) citizens who divorced abroad, there may be an option for financial relief in the courts.
Furthermore, any British Citizens who pursued a legal separation, annulment, or nullity of divorce in The Philippines will be given priority and allowed a direct divorce without the need for a court hearing.
So, in the case for British individuals without a divorce and wishing to pursue one, which is the best route for them to take? As of March 2022, the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 has taken precedent over divorce cases in the UK. This new act lowers the threshold for grounds to a divorce by introducing only one requirement: ‘no fault’. This removes necessity to apportion blame to the other party and allow couples to end their marriage mutually. It also introduces a minimum 20-week period between the start and end of proceedings and application for a conditional order. This provides couples with a meaningful period of reflection and a chance to reconsider. But most importantly, satisfying a single ground of ‘no fault’ allows a chance to reduce (or even remove) animosity between ex-partners to provide a better relationship, especially if they must co-parent after the divorce.
Should the Philippines legalise divorce under the current revisions in both houses, the grounds for absolute divorce are still high. Whilst the Senate bill has made attempts to remove some grounds, it is still comparable to the grounds set under legal separation and annulment. For foreign spouses hoping to divorce in a more straightforward and perhaps less villainising route, seeking a divorce in their foreign courts may be more appealing.
Currently, there is no details or signs of further legislative frameworks in aiding the separation of assets for foreign divorces (which is present within the proposed divorce bills). It is an area of Philippine law that needs development and clarity for both those in want of a divorce, and for local and foreign lawyers dealing with such cases. Despite this, there are avenues that may be taken currently and can be explored through the help of professional legal personnel within an individual’s jurisdiction.
If you, or anyone you know, need advice on any of the issues mentioned within this article, Lawyery are well experienced in handling these types of family law matters within the English and Welsh jurisdictions. We have experience in dealing with cases relating to foreign divorce and have consultants that can advise in matters of Philippine law.
If you wish to discuss this further, please contact us.