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Now the Filipino spouse can!

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“The Court said even if the Filipino spouse is the one who initiates the divorce, she can remarry.”

I have been in the legal practice for well over 25 years now. In litigation, I deal with all sorts of rabbit holes. Some are simple, others complex. But whatever it is, I face the arduous task of giving solutions to my clients to help them sleep soundly at night. Family law is one of the facets of practice I enjoy. Why? It is the “everyday” law which concerns all of us. As in all of us. You see, it is the law which affects our relationships with our spouses, children, siblings and other relatives. Like it or not, we all have any or all of those, one way or the other. During socials when I meet people the first time, and they find out I am a lawyer; invariably, they consult about marital problems. Or even in meetings where discussion is focused on ongoing intricate commercial concerns of a corporation; more often than not, someone would pull me to the side and ask about annulment, child custody, adoption or partition of spouses’ properties. Believe you me, I have heard this question a-thousand-and-one times: “Atty. how do I get an annulment?” Before I get into that, let me very briefly talk about marriage.

As the Family Code goes, marriage is “a contract of permanent union between man and woman… for the establishment of conjugal…life…”Clearly, it is one of permanence.

Something that’s forever. Precisely during the wedding, both bride and groom profess as they say their “I dos,” that they will be together, through thick and thin, in sickness and in health,…’til death do they part.’’ Whatever tribulations come their way, they will and should, with hands clasped together, be one and triumph over all of them. This is what marriage is and how it should be.

But there are times when a marriage does not go how it is supposed to. Sometimes love just flies out the window. Spouses get so invloved in the intricacies of the modern world that oftentimes, they no longer live for one another. This is the sad reality in a vast number of marriages, not only in the Philippines but also in the whole wide world.

Yes the problem is worldwide. This brings to fore our kababayans living abroad married to spouses who are foreigners. Of course, I am indeed happy for those whose mixed marriages are like fairy tales being lived here on earth. Meaning, they live happily ever after. But what about those which are not? Because of differences perhaps in culture, religious beliefs, traditions or customs, the Pinoy and the foreigner could not live together harmoniously. Simple disagreements escalate to major skirmishes. We have heard of mere shouting matches that end up in the infliction of physical pain. And thus the inevitable happens. They divorce. Yes, the seemingly only solution to the problem. The end of the line for them, and they say adieu. Good if the foreigner files for divorce against the Filipino.

After they go their separate ways, both can freely remarry….this time, to other partners. This is the protection our Family Code accords to our kababayans. If the foreign spouse can remarry, then the divorced Filipino spouse can too! Way to gooo!
But what if it is the other way around? The Filipino spouse files for divorce abroad? (I say abroad because there are no divorce proceedings in the Philippines. At least not yet). Can our kababayan remarry? Based on Article 26 of the Family Code, that is a big N-O! If the Filipino did it, he (or she) cannot remarry. And the hitch is, the foreigner spouse can. For real? Yes, for real. A pitiful plight, but such is the law. So Filipinos abroad should never initiate the divorce? Seems so. And if they do, no second chance to marry? Yes. They lay helpless and all they can do is watch their once-upon-a-time partner get married again, start out a whole new life, with such bright future ahead. Our kababayans are trapped in this legal quagmire, unable to have a better life with another spouse. How depressing.

Should this be forever? Can’t there be a solution?

There is an answer! Quite recently, our Supreme Court decided on this issue. And, fortunately, the justices blazed the trail in Republic of the Philippines v. Marelyn Manalo. With the pronouncement in the case, the Court said even if the Filipino spouse is the one who initiates the divorce, she can remarry. Yes, now the Filipino spouse can! Alleluia!! The Court reasoned there should be no difference between a Filipino spouse initiating the action and a Filipino being filed a divorce action against. And I believe that is true. So what if the Filipino initiated it?
I am really glad the Supreme Court finally released our kababayans from this agonizing bondage. This calls for celebration for those Filipino spouses living in a world of despair, hurt and loneliness trapped in a failed mixed marriage abroad. Now, they need not hopelessly wait for their spouses to divorce them. (And what if their spouses intentionally do not?) They can go ahead, seek refuge from the courts and attain their freedom. And once they do, they gain all the opportunties to live life anew and have a whiff of fresh air.
I am often asked by clients about this Article 26. And previous to Republic v. Manalo, their faces would fall after I tell them they could not tie the knot once again. I guess, all that changes with the recent Supreme Court decision. Now, I can tell them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am pretty sure, their faces will light up with so much hope. Without a doubt, they can sleep soundly at night.

My hats off to the Supreme Court.

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