In an article for Filipino news site Global Nation Inquirer, Rodel Rodis lists the three countries in the world that still do not allow for divorce.
The home country of the Inquirer, the Philippines, is the first.
The second is Vatican City.
The third is the African nation of Malta, which will cut the list down by 33% when it adopts a divorce law in 2010.
Rodis points out that all 53 countries in Africa will allow divorce at that time, as will the entirely of the Americas and 52 out of 53 countries in Asia. Regardless of national political system or religion, the vast majority permit divorce.
This includes Italy, home to the Vatican and an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic majority. While the Catholic Church still frowns on divorce in many cases, a divorce law has been on the books since 1970. Spain, another nation with a Catholic majority and one that played an important role in establishing the current Filipino culture, has had divorce since 1981.
Yet, the Philippines have not followed suit, despite its credentials as a forward-looking nation in terms of gender equality. The Philippines has had two women presidents, and the majority of its population is female, but in the first article of the Family Code, the country declares that "marriage is an inviolable social institution, a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman."
Critics take issue with the notion of a permanent union, arguing that social norms under the system allow men a great deal of flexibility to have unions with other women, while women are treated much differently.
While there is no divorce in the Philippines, marriages do end. This occurs through a process of annulment, and here the Philippine Family Code takes a direct page from the Vatican procedures.
An annulment is essentially wiping the marriage away. The state will declare a marriage void "ab initio," or from the beginning. In the Philippines, marriages are not ended but declared to have never existed at all. There are several grounds for nullity, including a marriage in which one party is under the age of 18, lack of a solemnizing officer, lack of a marriage license, bigamy or polygamy, mistaken identity and psychological incapacity.
This last category does much of the equivalent of American divorce. In the U.S., marriages can be nullified based on conditions that were present at the time of the marriage, such as an underage party.
In 1988, the Philippines allowed parties to file for nullity based on conditions that occurred after the marriage, where one errant party displays one or several of the many behaviors (physical abuse being one of the more extreme examples) that are grounds for divorce in the United States.
The Philippines have essentially expanded the entire system of legal separation within this one, obscure pocket of nullity law. Nullities by psychological incapacity account for most separations in the country today.
The reason for this seemingly strange practice dates back to 1986, when Cory Aquino became president of the country following the ousting of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. At that time, Filipino women could not divorce their husbands unless they were abusive or mentally ill, and the soon-to-be-assembled Congress was not likely to change this practice because the Catholic Church in the Philippines would consider it "contrary to Filipino culture and tradition."
President Aquino had the power to enact laws under a temporary constitution, and she used this power to develop the Family Code, which essentially snuck divorce in under nullification laws before the Congress could be established and the legislative power passed to that body. Since then, there have been no marriages officially ended in the Philippines, but there have been a great many that "never happened."
Source: The Global Nation Inquirer