House panel approves substitute bill on divorce

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — The House of Representatives committee on population and family relations on Wednesday approved a measure that would allow divorce in the Philippines.

The bill, entitled "An act instituting absolute divorce in the Philippines," was approved with no contention.

Under the bill, married couples may end their marriage for several reasons, including abuse, infidelity, and irreconcilable differences.

It aims to give “the opportunity to spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure an absolute divorce decree under limited grounds and well-defined judicial procedures to terminate a continuing dysfunction of a long broken marriage.”

The proposed measure also allows spouses separated for at least five years to file for absolute divorce.

It permits this in cases when reconciliation is “highly improbable,” unless the separation is due to overseas employment or both spouses residing in a distant region

Psychological incapacity, gender reassignment surgery, and irreconcilable marital conflicts resulting in the "total breakdown of the marriage beyond repair” are also cited as valid reasons for a divorce.

However to show that the State places importance on the sanctity of marriage, the bill mandates a six-month “cooling off” period “as a final attempt of reconciling the concerned spouses.”

This six-month period begins after a petition is filed, but is lifted in cases that involve acts of violence against women and their children, or an attempt against the life of the other spouse or a common child.

Custody of children, meanwhile, will be determined by a court “in accordance with the best interests” of the children. Minors under seven years old may not be separated from their mother unless there are “compelling reasons” for it.

The law also entitles an “innocent spouse” to up to one year of support from the other if he or she is not gainfully employed.

"The proper court shall have the discretion to grant alimony, child support, and child custody pursuant to the pertinent provisions of the Family Code of the Philippines," the bill added.

Following its approval at a committee level, the bill is now set to go to the plenary for another round of debate or voting.

At present, only the Philippines and the Vatican have no divorce laws.

Should the divorce bill become a law, married couples will have a cheaper alternative to getting an annulment.

Annulment proceedings in the Philippines can cost as much as ₱250,000 upwards.

CNN Philippines’ Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.