Define criteria for marriage dissolution, House urged
The University of the Philippines Law Center (UPLC) has called on the House of Representatives to tighten its definition of “irreconcilable differences” and “severe and chronic unhappiness” as criteria in the pending bill on the dissolution of marriage.
These two reasons were listed as valid grounds for the dissolution of marriage under House Bill No. 6027, which was filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and several administration and opposition lawmakers.
In a 10-page paper submitted to the House committee on population and family relations, UPLC said the lack of definition of these two grounds “will lead only to misunderstanding of the law and laxity in dissolving marriages.”
“It can be presumed that all spouses who file a petition in court will claim severe and chronic unhappiness. It goes without saying that those who will go to court will claim that their differences are beyond repair and reconciliation is improbable,” the paper read.
This will be similar to the vagueness in the controversial term “psychological incapacity,” which was listed under Article 36 of the Family Code as a ground for the currently allowed annulment of marriage.
In fact, while the Family Code took effect in August 1998, the Supreme Court only laid down the “guidelines” on “psychological incapacity” in the 1997 decision in the case of Republic v. Molina.
UPLC warned that the current text of the bill containing such “broad and ambiguous language will most likely result in the same confusion as Article 36 does and will, consequently, be in need of ‘statutory and jurisprudential parameters.’”
UPLC also found it “unclear” if the bill would abandon Article 213 of the Family Code, providing for the “tender years” presumption, which states that children below 7 years old cannot be separated from the mother.
Since the bill only provided that it would leave the issue of parental authority to the spouses unless overruled by the court, UPLC said the wording could allow the child to be placed in the father’s custody with the court’s approval.
“To avoid future acrimonious litigation that will traumatize the children, the House Bill should clarify this point,” the paper read.
While the bill sought to penalize the use of coercion by one spouse on the other, UPLC said it found unclear the effect of such a finding on the status of the marriage being dissolved.
UPLC also said the term “dissolution of marriage” was a “disguised ‘divorce’” and added that Congress did not have to come up with the name because the Family Code already allowed divorce for Muslims and foreign spouses.
It said the dissolution of marriage, or divorce, would allow couples to terminate their union on grounds (such as abuse) arising after the celebration of marriage.