I grew up believing that my parents were inseparable and that I would be lucky enough to grow old while having our entire family under one roof. I was proven wrong.
One day, 11-year old me woke up to news of my parents’ separation, trumping my previously held belief and surprising me with what I thought was out of the blue. At that age, I wondered why my parents can’t just work things out or why they can’t just stay together for their children—for us.
Back then, I wasn’t familiar with how this specific setup works. How would I know? I was only aware of how complete families would function—and that there had to be a dad, a mom, and their child or children. But it was settled; my father was set to leave our home, and my parents agreed to see my siblings and I every other weekend.
Being completely used to the regular dynamics of an intact family, I wondered how I would feel at home knowing that I wouldn’t get to see my father everyday. On top of all the issues and controversy within my family, I kept asking myself if my mom and dad would be individually less of a parent to their children. Above all, I kept thinking about what “home” would or should be without having everyone in the same place.
My situation isn’t unique. In the country, families left and right become what we call “broken” after the patriarch and the matriarch—or both patriarchs or both matriarchs—decide to split. Being the only country apart from the Vatican that doesn’t legalize divorce due to the strong opposition from the Catholic Church, the Philippines houses a number of people whose stories are similar to mine.
The list of separated spouses seems to grow each year. According to the Office of the Solicitor General, annulment and nullity cases have increased from 4,520 in 2001 to 11,135 in 2014. Relationships of wedded couples end due to various reasons: financial problems, lack of communication, infidelity, domestic violence, and engagement in illegal drugs. These are some of the common reasons why couples wish to walk away from their marriage.
But no matter how damaged or irreparable your marriage is, living in our country means that your options are limited. There is legal separation, where the couple is allowed to live separately but is prohibited from ending the marital bond. On the other hand, annulment dissolves the marriage, finalizing it as if it never existed, but requires around P200,000 to P500,000 with thin grounds for consideration from the law. A psychological assessment on the reasons for the annulment and the situation of the spouses is also required. Given these prerequisites, many families in the country struggle to cope.
I’m lucky enough that my experience is not as traumatizing or as dangerous. But there are many Filipino families where children suffer from witnessing the daily torment of their parents’ immoral actions, with this possibly resulting in constant stress, trauma, depression, and even behavioral problems of children. In cases like this, taking a new path could be better in the long run, sparing children from the lasting effects of an unhealthy marriage. But in our country, not everyone is privileged; legal separation and annulment become a financial burden to many. Instead of recognizing this, legislators who can help resolve these matters stand ever so stubbornly, opposing the bill by using reasons backed by their personal beliefs. These reasons do not give any justice to those who endlessly suffer. They fail to recognize that divorce can spare children from constant stress caused by an unhealthy marriage and from being deprived of an opportunity to grow and accept that not all things could work out.
Whenever the Church turns a blind eye to these circumstances, they should also realize that in no way will divorce promote couples to immediately walk away from marriage. Instead, it will be offered as a way out of misery and difficult relationships, made available to those who direly need it.
Divorce is not primarily about the children; it is focused on the couple’s relationship. However, separated parents still have the responsibility to be role models to their children, regardless of the family’s setup.
What makes these families “broken” is when the law fails to act on those who suffer—living in a household that tolerates an unhealthy relationship. With the continuous absence of divorce in our country, we should realize that we’re not protecting anyone but those who may endanger or cause distress to their spouses and children.
If we don’t allow divorce as an option in our country, we not only deny spouses’ freedom to walk a new path and heal, but we as well compromise the development and growth of children affected.