Divorce bill up for voting by House panel

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

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Tuesday said the technical working group (TWG) tasked to consolidate various versions of the divorce bill has come up with a version that the panel will vote on.

Should the measure be approved by the committee, it will be introduced to the plenary for another round of debates and voting.

In a press conference, Lagman said the divorce bill could be approved at the plenary before lawmakers go on break on March 21.

Under the consolidated version of the divorce bill, married couples will have the option to end their marriage based on, among others, abuse and irreconcilable differences.

They can also file for divorce if they have been legally or effectively separated (de facto) for five years, or if one spouse underwent sexual reassignment.

The bill, however, prohibits "no fault divorce" or divorce in which the spouse who wants to end the marriage cannot find anything wrong with the other spouse.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's proposal to include "severe and chronic unhappiness" as a ground for dissolving a marriage was also not included in the consolidated measure, Lagman said.

"It's hard to determine. It's so subjective," he said.

Lagman said the petition by divorce can be filed by either of the spouses, or both of them in certain instances.

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.

Resource persons told the committee during the TWG hearings that annulment proceedings in the Philippines cost P250,000 upwards.

Under the divorce bill, indigent litigants who want to end their marriage no longer have to pay court fees and other expenses related to the proceedings.

Asked how much getting a divorce will cost for couples who could foot the bill, Lagman said it will be "much, much less" than spending for annulment.

While the divorce bill expands the bases for ending a couple's marriage, Lagman said there is no time frame for the proceedings to be completed.

"It's hard to have a particular time frame. It will be on a case to case basis," he said.

To show that the State places importance on the sanctity of marriage, the court will only start divorce proceedings six months after the petition for divorce is filed.

The exceptions to the so called six-month "cooling off period," however, are cases of violence or if there's an attempt at the lives of the spouse who petitioned for divorce or their childrem.

The divorce bill also imposes a hefty P200,000 fine and jail time of not less than five years if a married couple is found to have colluded to get a divorce.