EXPLAINER: The death of love between spouses is not a legal ground for absolute divorce. But love’s demise can lead to one of many overt acts for which a marriage may be lawfully terminated.

EXPLAINER: The death of love between spouses is not a legal ground for absolute divorce. But love’s demise can lead to one of many overt acts for which a marriage may be lawfully terminated.

[] House Bill No. 9349 was passed on May 22, 2024, on third and final reading, but the House of Representatives deferred its transmittal to the Senate until next July. Reason: to clarify a question on the number of votes required to pass it. Reports said the vote was 126 “yes” and 109 “no.” Another report said 131 voted “yes,” 109 “no.” It’s majority, not plurality, says former Senate president Vicente “Tito” Sotto III: 126 wouldn’t be enough but 128 would be.

[] In September 2023, Senate Bill No. 2443 passed review by the committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality committee, a first-time feat for the bill since a bicameral legislature was restored after the 1986 Edsa Revolt. How the senators will vote on the floor was not yet ascertained but unofficial surveys tell a close fight.

"I wonder if death of love can be a legal ground in suing for absolute divorce." -- Seen in a social media post

DEATH OF LOVE -- love’s flight, exit, or disappearance -- between husband and wife cannot by itself become a legal ground for absolute divorce, which after almost four decades has come closer now than at any other time to being passed as law in the country.

But an overt act by a spouse, prompted or not by love’s demise, may constitute a legal basis for one to sue for divorce. Separate House and Senate versions of the bill each have a list of the causes of absolute divorce, a number of which expectedly must originate with love being gone.

IT’S THE ACT OR DEED. Death of love could lead to any one of these legal grounds for absolute divorce under the House bill, which also adopts as grounds for absolute divorce the grounds for legal separation and annulment under the Family Code. The Senate version also includes in its list of grounds the Family Code provision on legal separation but maybe not those on annulment.

The common version is still to be agreed upon. But as of now, from both the House and Senate bills, these are the overt acts, which may be caused by loss of love, that may constitute a legal ground for absolute divorce:

[] psychological incapacity or irreconcilable differences;

[] domestic or marital abuse; violence or grossly abusive conduct;

[] physical harm or moral pressure to induce change of religion or political

party or entry to prostitution;

[] marital infidelity; contracting of a subsequent bigamous marriage;

[] attempt to kill the spouse or child;

[] abandonment of the spouse without justifiable cause for more than one year (House); five years of separation, without a judicial decree or separation (Senate);

[] rape of the spouse, before or after the marriage

There are other legal grounds under the pending bills -- which will be harmonized in the final Senate-House version -- but those aren’t likely to arise from the death of love. Love’s passing may have nothing to do with: Being sentenced to jail for more than six years, homosexuality, drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, or chronic gambling. Here love dies; it’s a consequence, not the cause.

Death of love may cause any of the above-listed grounds for absolute divorce. But it’s the overt act that provides the legal ground, not love’s demise.

BUT LOVE’S DEATH CITED IN PLEADINGS, TRIAL. Loss of love is not among the legal grounds under the pending bills. But that won’t keep the sad state of the spouses’ love ties from the pleadings and the trial.

If love’s death was the reason for, say, marital infidelity or the attempt to poison the no-longer-loved spouse, that will occupy space and time in the court process of ending the marriage. If the vanishing of love is the cause of the now-irreconcilable relations, lawyers will hype it up in the courtroom and pleadings.

RIGHT TO REMARRY. Philippine law has a declaration of nullity of a marriage. It has legal separation. But neither remedy gives spouses the right to marry again. The separate bills on absolute divorce -- passed by the House and ready for a floor vote in the Senate -- grant the right to remarry.

A divorce decree, the House version says, shall dissolve marriage, “where the divorced spouses return to their status of being single with the right to contract marriage again.” Yes, “the status of single, for all legal intents and purposes,” said the Senate version, “including the right to contract a subsequent marriage.”

NOT A ‘NO-FAULT, QUICKIE, DRIVE-THRU,’ VEGAS-STYLE DIVORCE. Surely, not by e-mail or “notarial” divorces they mass-produce in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A.

The grounds are limited and reasonable, said Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, principal author in the House, and the court will “scrutinize” each case to prevent abuse and collusion of the parties.

The judge is apparently the arbiter, as both spouses may jointly file the petition. Specifically, he is bound to “exercise all efforts to reunite and reconcile the concerned spouses” during a mandatory 60-day cooling-off period after the filing of the petition. If they don’t kiss and make up, the court is “mandated” to decide the petition within one year.

If they reconcile after the absolute-divorce decree is issued, that decree will be nullified. One may ask, could that be a legal ground for absolute divorce if the spouse who reconciled got married to someone else during the break-up but would now like, ha-ha, to divorce his current wife and remarry his ex-wife?

CHURCH OPPOSITION. How strong is the opposition of the Catholic Church to the absolute divorce law? How much has it changed with the “shift in societal attitudes towards marriage and relationships in the country,” which the authors of the pending bills use to pitch the controversial bill?

Would the nation accept the absolute divorce law, after years of not being able to explain how come it’s the only country that prohibits divorce? Vatican can explain its ban by its form of government, a theocracy, but democratic Philippines cannot tell why most of its populace -- except Muslims and where one spouse is a foreigner -- are banned from getting out of an intolerable marriage and trying to get into a more tolerable one.

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