Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
Last week, I dealt with three of the most common arguments against divorce: that it is unnecessary, anti-Filipino, and destructive to the family. This piece deals with three more arguments. Hopefully, I will be able to provide more clarity on why I, and many others are taking the pro re-legalization of divorce in the country.
4. Marriage is sacred.
First, marriage is both a ceremony and a contract voluntarily entered into by both parties.
As a ceremony, marriage celebrates the love and desire of two people to live together. As a contract, marriage carries with it responsibilities of both parties.
Because entering marriage is voluntary, the decision whether to stay together or not should be taken by the individuals involved, not society, other people, or the Church.
As a contract, marriage comes with responsibilities. If one is gravely abused by the other, the contract is violated. In this case, what options does the other party have?
All contracts can be revoked. This should also be true for marriages. Divorce may be the option for the aggrieved party to get out of the marriage contract.
Studies in the United States and other countries indicate that the majority of those who file for divorce are women. The major reasons cited are: unfaithfulness, physical and other forms of abuse, neglect and desertion, alcoholism, and drug abuse. If most of those who violate marriage contracts are men, why punish women for their irresponsibility?
Second, if God is a party to the marriage, will God insist that individuals stay in abusive marriages?
The Roman Catholic Church speaks of a loving, just and forgiving God. If this is so, God would not want people to suffer and would save people from oppressive situations. As one woman member of Couples for Christ (who separated from her husband) said, “I don’t believe that God wants me and my children to stay in a marriage that almost killed us.”
Third, there is Church annulment.
The Roman Catholic Church annuls some marriages. Isn’t this an acceptance that some marriages are simply wrong and that marriage is NOT inviolable? However, Church annulment process is said to be long and expensive. Poor Catholics will never be able to afford this.
The well-being and happiness of people count in marriages. An understanding God would choose this. The line, “what God has put together, let no man put asunder” used against divorce is convenient for those who have not experienced marriage.
5. There is no assurance of happiness after divorce and upon marriage to another.
First, people do not get divorced to immediately marry someone else.
Wanting to contract another marriage is not among the earlier identified major reasons for wanting a divorce. This means that the immediate concern is to legally get out of a problematic marriage.
For women abused by their husbands, the most important thing is for the abusive men to lose their power over them. Culturally, this power emanates from the marriage and the only way to remove it is to dissolve the bond.
I know cases of women who have separated from their husbands but are still followed and abused by them. Most cases of separation do not go through the courts, thus, marriages remain valid. For many men, they think they still have the power over the women because the latter remain married to them.
The abuse should stop. For many women, freedom comes after their marriages become void.
Second, women’s happiness does not lie only in men’s hands in marriage.
There are women who never married and are happy. There are those who got married and happy. There are those who got married, separated from their husbands, remained single, and happy. Still, there are those who got separated, entered into another relationship, and happy. Happiness, therefore is not purely dependent on marriage.
Each of us determines what makes us happy and happiness can come in different situations, with different people.
Third, there is nothing wrong in having another spouse after a failed relationship.
Divorce gives the right to legally enter new relationships, even marriage, if and when one so desires. A subsequent marriage may make people happy. If it also fails, it’s one of the “risks” of having relationships, whether divorce is legal or not.
Happiness may or may not come after a relationship that’s proven to have caused misery. What’s important is freedom from such misery and the chance to pursue life anew.
6. Children are the worst losers in divorce cases.
No one wants children to suffer. However, hasty conclusions also won’t help.
First, recent studies reveal more nuanced findings about divorce and children.
Earlier reports concluded that divorce is bad for children. More recent ones, however, are more careful in making conclusions. While there are problems more commonly observed in children with divorced parents, it is equally important to emphasize the following findings:
There are more SIMILARITIES than differences between children whose parents are divorced and those whose biological parents are together;
Not all children are significantly affected by divorce;
Parents who decided to have a divorce are most likely to have had long drawn and severe problems BEFORE a divorce was taken. Said problems affect their children and it is highly possible that the effects are worse than those caused by the actual divorce;
The problems before divorce, not the actual separation, may have caused the differences observed between children whose parents got divorced and those who did not experience the same. Data from the National Survey of Children (USA) indicate that the experience of having parents getting a divorce has no significant or important effect on children IF the children’s wellbeing was given importance before the divorce;
In the long run, children in families with a lot of problems and fighting even if parents are together will be more negatively affected than children whose parents got divorced but the tension within the home was significantly lessened;
Divorce’s effects on children are varied depending on the level of arguments and tension before and after separation. The effects are more negative when before divorce, the conflicts are prolonged and frequent. Likewise, the high level of tension after aggravates and prolongs its negative effects on children.
Note also, that more recent studies on divorce’s effects on children carry important pointers on how parents can adequately take care of their children after separation.
It can be concluded, therefore, that when it comes to children, it might even be better for parents to have a divorce AND ensure their children’s wellbeing after than continue to expose them to tension and conflict.
Second, children born out of wedlock are discriminated against in law.
Since separations outside of law and contracting new ‘illegal’ relationships are quite common, children borne out of these subsequent relationships are considered ‘illegitimate’ by law. They have less rights compared with those born within marriages.
Not only do these children carry the stigma of being illegitimate, they are also deprived of the right to legally carry their father’s names and have less inheritance rights.
Why should children suffer for decisions made by their parents?
In the end, the position for the re-legalization of divorce cannot be considered as unnecessary, anti-Filipino, anti-family, or anti-children. A divorce law may even improve the quality of and strengthen the family as an institution.
Divorce also gives freedom and the chance to start life anew to those abused within marriage. The divorce law should be there for those who need it, especially those whose marriages are already broken and irreparable.