Did we have absolute divorce in the Philippines before?

One of the most controversial legal issues in the Philippines is that of absolute divorce, where marriage is dissolved, allowing the parties to remarry, once it is decreed.

That is, perhaps, because there are quite a number of married Filipino couples, who, for some reasons, openly or secretly, long to be freed from their marriage bonds, which, practically, at least in our country, only death can dissolve.

While it is of common knowledge that, at present, our laws do not, as a rule, recognize absolute divorce, what is, probably, unknown to many is that, in the past, we used to have this kind of divorce.

Back in the olden days, when our country was still a colony of Spain, we used to have, as our divorce law, the Siete Partidas. But this law simply allowed relative divorce, where marriage, unlike in absolute divorce, is not dissolved, since it merely permits separation from bed and board, leaving the marriage bond in full force.

It was actually during the American period when absolute divorce found its way into our statute books. On March 11, 1917, Act No. 2710 was passed into law. It repealed the Siete Partidas and allowed only absolute divorce on the following grounds, namely: adultery on the part of the wife and concubinage on the part of the husband. In both cases, there had to be previous criminal convictions.

By the time the Japanese occupied our country, particularly during the Second World War, a new absolute divorce law came into existence. This was Executive Order (E.O.) No. 141, which expanded the grounds for absolute divorce under Act No. 2710 from two to ten.

E.O. No. 141 was effective until October 23, 1944. And this was when General Douglas MacArthur, by way of a proclamation, declared, among others, the reestablishment of the Commonwealth Government. Such proclamation, in effect, repealed E.O. No. 141 and revived Act No. 2710.

But, years after, absolute divorce found its way out of our statute books. This took place in 1950 with the repeal of Act No. 2710 by Republic Act No. 386, otherwise known as the “Civil Code of the Philippines,” which allowed only relative divorce, although termed differently as legal separation, but with exactly the same meaning and effects.

Thus, it may be asked: “Did we have absolute divorce in the Philippines before?” The answer would, obviously, be in the affirmative.

[References: Handbook on the Family Code of the Philippines (1988, 1995, Reprint October, 2000 with additional jurisprudence and new legislation) by Alicia V. Sempio-Diy, Pages 87-88, The Family Code of the Philippines Annotated (2001 Edition) by Dean Ernesto L. Pineda, Pages 124-126, and Civil Code of the Philippines Annotated, Fourteenth Edition (1998), Volume One (Persons and Family Relations) by Edgardo L. Paras, Pages 446-453.]


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