CEBU CITY -- Representative Pablo Garcia plans to file again a bill that, if enacted into law, will bind the government to honor annulments granted by the Catholic Church, sparing estranged couples from the pain and expense of going to court.

"Mohammedan divorces are valid in the Sharia courts, and the parties can remarry," Garcia (Cebu Province, second district) said in a recent interview, adding that most European countries recognize such divorces.

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He pointed out the basis used in church annulment proceedings is similar to provisions in the Family Code, such as psychological incapacity.

He anticipates resistance from the Catholic Church and other sectors, but said divorces granted by religions recognized by the government should also be considered legal.

Garcia filed the bill in 2007, but it has reportedly remained with the House committee on the revision of laws.

A church official, interviewed separately, said he supports the proposal, because it will complement church laws.

Msgr. Esteban Binghay, a Canon lawyer and former judicial vicar of the Metropolitan Matrimonial Tribunal, said at present, a couple whose marriage is found null and void by the Matrimonial Tribunal still needs to obtain a court annulment, especially if either party wants to remarry.

Binghay said that with Congressman Garcia's proposal, the couple will only be required to file a case with the Matrimonial Tribunal and won't have to spend more money going to court.

However, Binghay said, compared to court proceedings, the church's annulment process takes more time, as church officials need to make sure the marriage was indeed void from the beginning.

The diocese appoints a "defender of the bond" whose goal is to try to reconcile the couple.

Garcia pointed out the church is not in favor of divorce and only grants an annulment if its officials are convinced there was no valid marriage from the beginning.

According to church procedures, couples must first file a petition for nullity at the Metropolitan Matrimonial Tribunal in their Archdiocese.

The tribunal will evaluate whether the petition has merit or valid grounds.

These include marriages that are not formally solemnized by a church authority; those where either party is still married to another person at the time of the rites; and "defects of consent" or cases where either party "simulated consent but had no intention to contract a lifelong relationship or to have children."

The tribunal accepts the case only if a valid ground exists.

Once they accept a case, the tribunal will then investigate, summoning both parties and their witnesses to make their statements, Binghay said.

Addressing a Canon Law symposium in April 2007, a judicial vicar said a church annulment can take about one year and cost the parties P15,000 to P50,000, but officials may waive the fees if doing so is in the couple's best interest. (RSA/JKV of Sun.Star Cebu)