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SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau

Divorce bill hurdles second reading
16 March 2018 11:03:05 AM

The House of Representatives, through viva voce voting, approved on second reading on Wednesday House Bill 7303, or the Absolute Divorce Act of 2018.

The bill seeks to institutionalize absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage in the country.

It declares that while the State continues to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family, it shall also give the opportunity to spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure absolute divorce under limited grounds, as well as judicial procedures to end dysfunction of a long-broken marriage; save the children from the pain, stress, and agony consequent to their parents' constant marital clashes; and grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance to achieve marital bliss.

The bill refers to absolute divorce as "the separation between married couples that is total and final where the husband and wife return to their status of being single with the right to contract marriage again."

Omnibus committee amendments as presented by Rep. Edcel Lagman were accepted. A notable change among those approved is the inclusion of a section on the prescription of action. Under this new section, a petition for absolute divorce or dissolution of marriage shall be filed in the proper court by the interested party or parties within five years of the accrual or cause of action.

Another section added to the bill provides for the finality of the decision or decree. Except for decisions or decrees in summary proceedings, it shall immediately be executory, barring an appeal to the Court of Appeals.

The bill provides that petitioners seeking divorce are ensured inexpensive and affordable court proceedings in securing an absolute divorce decree.

The bill further states that grounds on the grant of an absolute divorce decree shall include grounds for legal separation and annulment of marriage under the Family Code, de facto separation for at least five years, legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years, psychological incapacity, gender reassignment surgery, irreconcilable differences, and joint petition of spouses.

In addition, overseas foreign workers shall be given priority with respect to court hearings. The court shall set the reception of evidence, upon availability of the petitioners, for not more than two consecutive days.

Summary judicial proceedings, or the expeditious manner of resolving a divorce petition without regard to technical rules, are also provided for under the bill. Petitioners may or may not be assisted by a lawyer in summary judicial proceedings, and the proper court may allow presentation of evidence ex parte, as needed.

Grounds under summary judicial proceedings include when one of the spouses has contracted a bigamous marriage or has been sentence to imprisonment for six years, among others.

Except for grounds under summary judicial proceedings, the court shall start trial only after a six-month cooling-off period after the filing of petition. During this time, the court shall exercise all efforts to reunite and reconcile the parties and the court shall await the submission of the report of the public prosecutor.

The mandatory cooling-off period shall not apply in cases, which involve acts of violence against women and/or children of the petitioner, under the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004. Neither shall it apply in cases involving an attempt against the life of the other spouse, a common child, or a child of the petitioner.

If the petitioners agree to reconcile, the court shall recognize the reconciliation through a joint manifestation under oath duly signed by the petitioners and submitted to the same court where the divorce petition was filed.

The divorced spouses shall have the right to marry again with custody of minor children to be decided by the court accordance with the best interests of the children.

Conjugal partnership of gains, excluding paraphernal or exclusive properties of either spouse, shall be dissolved and liquidated. The assets shall be equally divided between the spouses. Also provided is the option for delivering the presumptive legitime if the spouses are still living.

A petitioner who is not gainfully employed shall be entitled to support from the respondent until the petitioner finds adequate employment. Provided that the support shall not exceed three years from the finality of the divorce decree. Moreover, the amount of support shall be in proportion to the resources or means of the giver and necessities of the recipient. The petitioner may opt for a one-time or on a monthly basis alimony. (CMB Engracia)