By: Erin Hollenkamp
In Mexico City, the New York Times’ Elisabeth Malkin paints a vivid picture of life in divorce court. Amidst the conversations of attorneys, judges and clients, a secretary uses a drill to bore holes into thick piles of legal documents before tying them with twine.
It’s an image that epitomizes the Mexico City divorce process, wherein charges are laid out, counter-charges made, evidence filed, motions and appeals entered and cases drag on for years.
The local assembly has taken steps to change the process and speed things up. Previously, a divorce required a couple prove grounds for divorce, be it violence, cruelty, terminal illness or adultery. A new category has been created in the last year, one familiar to many Americans. Mexico City now recognizes no fault divorces.
The change mirrors what is happening in Mexican society. In 2000, the number of divorces per 100 marriages nationwide was 7.4. It has risen to 13 as of this year.
More women are employed full-time, providing many with an economic freedom they can use to pull out of a bad marriage. The Catholic Church once held an enormous influence over social issues in Mexico, but now that power has diminished, and the taboo nature of divorce has all but vanished as a result.
Under the new law, a person can ask for a divorce for no reason and theoretically have it granted within a month; however, Mexico’s legal system has not yet caught up to the theory.
Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women, but critics argue that this process does not offer much additional protection. Under the old system, a divorce could stretch on for years, but once it concluded, a judge would determine child custody, child support, alimony and property division in one decision.
Now that the divorces are happening much more quickly, couples have taken their arguments on these issues into legal motions that have continued to clutter the system.
Alberto Roman, an attorney who handles divorce cases in the city, believes the new law has bettered the situation not only in terms of pacing, but also in terms of emotional impact. Under the new system, couples do not need to call witnesses.
These have historically been children (who all-too-often had great seats from which to watch the marriage end), and Roman believes that the no fault process has taken "80% of the emotional burden" out of filing for divorce.
By removing other constraints, the more vulnerable party cannot easily be "extorted," accepting a poor economic arrangement in return for their freedom from the bad marriage. The no fault process has leveled the negotiating table for both parties.
Mexico City has used no fault divorce for less than eight months, and judges do not yet know how the final processes regarding child custody and support will look.
Poor record keeping and income-tax evasion are common problems in Mexico, and they give unscrupulous parties an easy way to hide property and income, and the new law may make it harder for one party to prove the other is holding out on the court process without the rigorous motions process contained in the old system.
Pilar Delgado, an attorney for women’s advocacy organization Vereda Themis, offers an even more novel solution to the challenges of divorce in Mexico. She advises her clients to file a family dispute motion and resolve the economic and custody questions before coming near a courtroom.
In other words, while the changes have improved the overall picture, it seems like the whine of a power drill will be a common sound in divorce court for some time to come.
Source: The New York Times