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Getting Divorced In The Philippines Where It's Against The Law


Getting divorced in the United States is often emotionally taxing, but for the most part, it is doable. Depending on circumstances, it can take just a matter of months. The Philippines is the only country in the world where ending a marriage is not just difficult, getting divorced is against the law. The only option for most citizens there is to get an annulment, which, in the Philippines, is a long, expensive court proceeding. Journalist Ana Santos was 28 years old when she left her husband. Four years later, her marriage was legally ended through an annulment. She wrote about her experience for an article that recently appeared in The Atlantic. It's titled "Ending A Marriage In The Only Country That Bans Divorce." She joins us today from the Philippines to talk about it. Thanks much for being with us, Ana.

ANA SANTOS: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you start off by explaining the law a little bit more for us? Why is divorce prohibited?

SANTOS: Well, to start off, divorce wasn't always banned in the Philippines. When the Spanish came in, divorce was banned and then it was offered sporadically. And then after that, in 1949, the Civil Code of the Philippines totally outlawed divorce. Under Philippine law, there are a number of ways to separate from your spouse. One is through legal separation. You separate properties. You agree to live apart, but you are not allowed to remarry. And then there are two ways to annul a marriage - declaration of nullity and then annulment. And for a minority of the Philippine population who are Muslim, divorce is allowed because they are governed by a separate set of laws called the Muslim Personal Code.

MARTIN: So that's a small percentage of the population. About 5 percent of the Philippines who are Muslim can get divorced, but for 95 percent of the residents there, it is against the law and the only option is to get an annulment. How difficult is that?

SANTOS: It is very difficult to get an annulment. You have to prove that your spouse is psychologically incapacitated to handle the responsibilities of being married, and that requires, you know, it requires evidence. You have to get a psychiatric evaluation and then your case is filed in family court, and it takes anywhere from two to four years. And during that time all the fees pile up and, of course, you know, the judges, along with the lawyers, offer to speed things along for a little bit of money on the side.

MARTIN: Do both parties have to get psychological evaluations?

SANTOS: You don't - it's a choice between - it's a tossup, really.

MARTIN: So you just sought that label for your husband.

SANTOS: Yeah, and it was something that we had agreed upon.

MARTIN: Did he fight your petition for an annulment?

SANTOS: For the most part, he didn't. Annulments are not supposed to be colluded. There is one party that is supposed to fight it out and that's another part of the process that makes it totally insane. Why can't we jointly agree as consenting adults not to be married anymore? That heightens the adversarial process of the annulment.

MARTIN: You did some reporting on this issue. This is a subject you wrote about for The Atlantic. Did you find out in your reporting just how many annulments are granted every year in the Philippines?

SANTOS: The office of the solicitor general gave me some statistics that show that there are more than 10,000 annulment cases that were filed in 2013. Of that number, there are - about 5 or 6 percent are denied.

MARTIN: Has the process of getting an annulment - since that's the only mechanism to end a marriage - has that process gotten easier over the years?

SANTOS: No, it hasn't gotten easier. It's gotten more expensive. I had interviewed one of my former classmates and she told me that she paid 10,000 U.S. dollars for an all-inclusive package and a guarantee of a decision in her favor.

MARTIN: What is life like now? You live in the Philippines. Do you feel any stigma associated with being a divorced woman - I'm sorry - you're not a divorced woman - with being a woman who went through an annulment?

SANTOS: Can I also just tell you, Rachel, it was also very difficult to know what to call myself even. On forms, employment applications, you know, those tick boxes there would be single, married and that was it. I was like OK, I'm not single. I'm not married, so what is this? And until now, they have added a couple of boxes, but they still don't say annulled. It'll say separated or widowed (laughter). I'm like, I'm still not one of these people (laughter). I wrote a piece about that saying that maybe they should just add a box that says it's complicated.

MARTIN: (Laughter) What's your relationship - may I ask - what's your relationship now with your former husband?

SANTOS: I will be very honest and I'll be very fair. He's been a very good father to our child. And he has been quite respectful. We have a very civil relationship right now. We have worked out a way to jointly but separately raise our child.

MARTIN: Ana Santos is a freelance journalist living in the Philippines. Her article "Ending A Marriage In The Only Country That Bans Divorce" was featured in The Atlantic. Ana, thanks so much for talking with us.

SANTOS: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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