EDITORIAL - Legalizing divorce

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Legalizing divorce

There’s a reason why women’s groups are among the biggest supporters of the legalization of divorce: women in this country typically get the short end of the stick in a marriage that has gone sour.

The husband can have extramarital affairs and even flaunt mistresses in public as a symbol of machismo – some ranking government officials have done this in the Philippines – while the wife is branded as a slut if she even flirts with another man while trapped in the toxic marriage.

Despite the enactment of tough laws against domestic violence, there are women especially in low-income households who continue to suffer physical, psychological and other forms of violence and abuse at the hands of their husbands. The children can also be subjected to domestic violence. When a battered woman tries to leave such a marriage, she may get beaten up further, or at worst, she is murdered by the husband.

Even when women manage to escape failed marriages, they are often left to fend for themselves and their children – if they get custody of the children. The Family Code of the Philippines requires both parents to provide child support. In case a woman leaves a failed marriage and gets custody of the children, however, and the husband refuses to provide child support, the woman may not bother going to court to compel the husband to comply. The woman herself is rarely given financial or any form of assistance by the estranged husband.

A divorce law provides alimony and clarifies the division of any conjugal property. This makes it easier for a woman to start a new life after a disastrous marriage. For some time, women’s groups suspected that the male-dominated Congresses in the past refused to legalize absolute divorce not because of religious beliefs, but because the skinflints in the legislature didn’t want to pay alimony to ex-wives, and the philandering men were happy to have multiple mistresses without having to promise marriage to anyone.

It’s true that marriage is not all bliss and couples must do their best to make it work. But there are also cases where the bond becomes irretrievably broken. In the absence of divorce, all the parties end up in misery – with women and children often bearing the brunt of the suffering.

Times are changing; this week the House of Representatives passed on second reading a bill allowing absolute divorce. The Senate and Malacañang must be open to changing with the times.

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