2019 Philippine Divorce Bill Update
Today, I talk all about the Philippine Divorce Bill.
I discuss the current status of the bill.
I also provide an in-depth look at the differences between the two versions now filed.
Lastly, I discuss current options available to divorce and the impact Philippine divorce would have on the legal landscape.
Will the 2019 Philippine Divorce Bill pass?
As of my writing, the Divorce bill has now been filed in the Senate and has also been passed by the House of Representatives.
The Divorce Bill has never come this far.
However, the Bill must be passed by the Senate before June 2019 or the Bill runs the risk of having to run through the entire senate legislative process again before it becomes law.
A Bill goes through several steps to become law in the Philippines.
First, it must be filed and read three times in the House of Representatives.
Second, it must be filed and read three times in the Senate.
Third, the differences in the Senate version and the House version must be reconciled by a bicameral committee.
Lastly, it becomes law (at last!) if it is not vetoed by the President.
2018 was a historical year for Philippine Divorce.
It was the first time a divorce bill had passed in the House.
In 2019, the Senate took its first tentative steps towards passing the bill when Senator Risa Hontiveros filed the Divorce Bill in the Senate.
As of this writing, the bill must now be read and approved 3 times for the second major hurdle to be passed.
With the Senate’s current term ending in June 2019, there is very little time for the Bill to be passed. The moment a new Senate comes into power, the Bill may not start at its current status but instead have to be presented as if for the first time.
At the moment, these Bills are not yet law.
What will the final Divorce Bill look like?
The final divorce bill will be taken from the approved House version and the approved Senate version.
The difference of the two versions will be reconciled by the a bi-cameral committee.
As such, it is important to know what the House and the Senate versions contain to have an idea of what the final Divorce bill will look like.
The below compares approved House version HB 7303 and the filed Senate version SB 2134.
What are the grounds for divorce of the 2 Bills?
Both the Senate and the House versions include the grounds under Art 45 for legal separation, Art 45 for annulment, Art 36 for annulment under psychological incapacity with minor modifications.
In addition, the following new grounds have been added:
- When the parties have been legally separated for more than 2 years
- When the parties have been separated for more than 5 years and reconciliation is highly improbable
- Irreconcilable differences.
The Senate version also includes:
- Section 5 of RA 9292 Anti-Violence against women and children
- If the respondent spouse raped the petitioner spouse before marriage
- When one of the spouses has been sentenced under RA 9995 or RA 9775 or RA 9262 or has had a permanent protection order issued under RA 9262
The House version:
- Includes gender reassignment surgery as a ground
The grounds for divorce have been widened to reflect common reasons why a marriage doesn’t work out such as physical separation, violence, substance abuse, homosexuality, irreconcilable differences and infidelity.
In the current legal environment, a validly celebrated marriage can only end through psychological incapacity.
Psychological incapacity is difficult to prove.
It includes such grounds as physical separation, violence, substance abuse and infidelity among others but is the sum of the evidence insofar as it indicates the incapacity of one spouse to comply with the requisites of marriage with regard to the other. It must have already been present before the marriage.
As such, some 5% of all annulment cases are denied should the judge or the public prosecutor deem the evidence insufficient to indicate psychological incapacity.
What is the procedure when filing for divorce?
Both bills have the following similarities procedurally:
- The current process for filing legal separation, annulment or void marriages shall apply to the divorce process as much as possible.
- Joint filing is possible but the house and senate versions recognize different grounds for it
- Joint filings must be accompanied by a plan for joint parenthood.
- Creditors are listed and named in the proceeding.
- OFWs will be prioritized so that the reception of evidence is not more than 2 days.
- Both bills allow pending cases for annulment, legal separation or nullification to be converted to divorce.
The Senate version differs in that:
- Joint filing is only possible for those legally separated for at least 2 years, those that have been separated for 5 years with reconciliation unlikely, and those that file under irreconcilable differences.
- Court assisted petitioners are indigents which are currently defined by the PAO as those who have less than a monthly income of P14,000 in metro manila, P13,000 in other cities, and P12,000 in other locations.
- A mandatory 6 month cooling off period is required when filing for irreconcilable differences.
The House version on the other hand states:
- Joint filing is available for all the grounds and courts will ensure enforcement of the joint plan for parenthood.
- Court assisted petitioner or those with less than P5M singly or jointly will have no filing fees or other fees and will be assigned a public attorney.
- A mandatory 6 month cooling off period is required for all cases, except for cases filed using when the grounds are that there has been separation of 5 years, a bigamous marriage, a legal separation of 2 years, when one of the spouses has been sentenced to imprisonment for 6 years, when there has been sex reassignment surgery or when there has been violence under RA 9262.
- The grounds against the grant of legal separation, annulment and nullification can also be used to deny the divorce request.
- Divorce is to be filed within 5 years from the accrual of the cause of action.
As you can see there are substantial differences between the 2 versions.
Joint filing in the Senate version is limited to just 3 grounds while the house accepts joint filing for all grounds.
In addition, the House states that the courts will ensure enforcement of the parenthood plan. This might be difficult due to the volume that the courts might eventually handle. This may require courts to have a lot more additional staff.
Also, the House version says that court assisted petitioner will be those that have less than P5M jointly or singly. As such, the House version makes free divorce available to a large segment of the population. This is laudable – but the court system must be ready to accept the large amount of cases that will result.
What are the Effects of Divorce?
Both bills allow the following:
- Remarriage and the separation of property
- Donations to a spouse can be revoked although the House version limits it to 5 years after the divorce while the Senate version is silent.
- Inheritances are to be in accordance with the family code.
- Children are legitimate, even those born 300 days after the divorce unless the ground was infidelity
Still there are differences.
The Senate version has no limit of the number of years for alimony. In addition, no parent will be awarded custody of a child if the ground used was any of the grounds under RA 9262 or if there was sentencing or a permanent protection order under the same law or if there was rape by one of the spouses be the other before marriage.
Meanwhile, the House version has a 3-year cap on alimony.
What are the Penalties, Reconciliation and Appeal clauses like?
The differences between the 2 bills are:
- Reconciliation filed at the court terminates the divorce proceedings. However, the House version further adds that separation of property already effected is as is unless the spouses decide to revive their joint property regime.
- If there was fraud in the divorce proceedings a fine of Php 200,000 is charged. However the Senate version adds a Php 100,000 – 300,000 fine if there are child support arrears in addition to unpaid support.
- House versions are final and executory 15 days after the receipt of the parties of the decision or the denial of the motion for reconsideration except if appealed. The Senate version states that all are immediately executory but that child support, custody and alimony can be appealed and that the court can review these orders should there be a material change in circumstances.
While there are of course other changes, the biggest change is that the divorce bill now allows many of the usual reasons couples separate to be grounds for legally ending a marriage.
This is a major change to the Philippine family law landscape.
Annulment has been rising in recent years and illegitimate children now account for 49.2% of all births.
Cohabitation has also increased with Abalos postulating that “…the lack of a divorce law in the Philippines and the cost of the prohibitive cost of obtaining legal separation or annulment may have contributed to the rise of cohabitation in the country. For example, a study in Metro Manila revealed that one of the reasons why some respondents were cohabiting was that “one partner was already married”…”
These new bills make divorce now available to many couples.
If these bills become law, many people’s legal status will now mirror their reality.