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Monday, August 26, 2019

Seares: Unhappy? HB 6027 offers quick divorce

UNHAPPINESS better believe it, may soon be the major ground for dissolving a marriage.

Under House Bill 6027 filed last July 24 by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and 15 others in the House, “severe or chronic unhappiness” or “irreconcilable differences” are the only reasons one or both marriage partners may seek its termination. And Alvarez during his Cebu visit said it will pass third reading before Christmas and will then be considered by the Senate.

None here

Under our existing laws, marriage may be annulled and the partners are separated from bed and board but the partners cannot remarry. Each can remarry only if the union is declared void from the beginning, meaning technically no marriage existed.

That’s why there is no divorce in the Philippines, the only country in the world without one, along with the Vatican (which, with its celibate residents, doesn’t need any).

What comes close to a divorce is annulment or declaration of nullity. Annulment doesn’t end the marriage. Declaration of nullity, which does, has a number of tough barriers, which the Supreme Court lays down as the Molina doctrine (Republic vs. Court of Appeals and Molina, GR #198763).

Hard barriers

Eight obstacles, count them. And the toughest demand the evidence of “psychological incapacity,” which must be medically or clinically identified, must exist at the time of celebration of the marriage, must be shown to be clinically permanent, and must be grave enough to disable the party to assume the obligations of the marriage.

If the husband is, say, a confirmed alcoholic and the wife regularly beats up the husband, each flaw of character must be shown to exist from wedding day and continues forever and cannot be cured. But what if the bad marriage is what makes him drink or her to maul him? Won’t do.

The Molina doctrine requires massive evidence provided by expert testimony of a psychiatrist, which doesn’t come cheap and takes a long time at trial. The court and government lawyers from the prosecutor’s office and the solicitor general watch out for collusion by the parties.

Difficult to prove. “Extremely adversarial.” And expensive. That’s how the existing process is described in the promo talks.

Easy and fast

In contrast, HB 6027 reduces the 10 grounds under the existing law on legal separation to just two: “severe or chronic unhappiness” or “irreconcilable differences.” And it promises to be a quickie, if Alvarez is to be believed.

The court determines whether the ground exists. When there’s no contest, as both parties jointly file the petition, the judge will just look at couple’s faces, see if they’re unhappy, and bang the gavel, Granted!

OK, not that fast. The judge is required to examine the parenthood plan and see if the kids’ welfare is protected: support, parental authority, custody, living arrangement. Then he bangs the gavel, Granted!

Only two hearings, Alvarez said. The proposed bill virtually removes the hurdles and the bumps of terminating a marriage.

Presumptions compared

Under existing laws, “any doubt shall be resolved in favor of the existence and continuation of the marriage and against its dissolution and nullity.” Under the proposed bill (in its section 2, last paragraph), “continuation of the marriage despite the existence of the grounds concerned shall be conclusively presumed prejudicial to the well-being of the family and, more important, the interest of the children.”

There it is. The would-be law tells the judge: See if [] they’re unhappy or [] their quarrel cannot be patched up. Check the box and only one is needed to terminate the marriage. Pronto, it’s hurting the family and, yes, the children.

Church won’t like it

No need of lengthy psychiatric discourse or state lawyers’ severe scrutiny. It will be all about determining presence of domestic turbulence or state of unhappiness between husband and wife. Which can judge better about that than the couple themselves?

It’s a divorce bill although the word is not mentioned in the bill and Alvarez says it is not divorce. The Catholic Church would not like divorce even if it’s not labeled or garbed as one.

And the relevant question, would it be constitutional?
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