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October 05, 2004

Divorce in Chile

"Divorce, Chilean Style: Now, It Will Be Legal But Not Exactly Easy" says the Wall Street Journal of October 5, 2004. Here are details:...

...On Nov. 17, Chile's first divorce law, passed by Congress and signed by the president earlier this year, goes into effect. It promises relief for Dr. Saavedra and an estimated 900,000 Chileans -- -- who are trapped in marriages that exist in name only. The coming of Chile's D-Day -- which will leave Malta and the Philippines as the most prominent countries prohibiting divorce -- will be a leap into the unknown for this Catholic nation.

To keep his campaign pledge to get a divorce bill through Congress, Socialist President Ricardo Lagos had to compromise with conservatives. Under the law, the product of a nine-year parliamentary debate, judges are to try to "preserve and recompose" marriages, if necessary, by recommending court-sponsored mediation.

Thus, it seems unilateral no-fault divorce is being allowed. That's the worst part of divorce-- that one spouse can dump the other without good reason and without penalty.

Despite their misgivings, in Chile, where women's rights have lagged because of Catholicism, geographical isolation and life under a repressive military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, when the feminist movement was flowering elsewhere.

It seems clear that no-fault divorce hurts women, not men. Men can get remarried more easily, are more unfaithful, and have more earning power. and I'm surprised the belief that it is good for women still persists. I suppose feminists like divorce because it is anti-marriage and anti-family, even though it makes women poor and unhappy.

According to Carlos Briceo, a Justice Ministry official, there appears to be an 11th-hour surge in applications for annulments, a widely winked at form of fraud that Chileans with financial means have traditionally used to get around the divorce prohibition. To obtain such an annulment, a couple goes to court with witnesses willing to offer perjured testimony that the address on the marriage form was wrong. Dr. Saavedra, the gynecologist, couldn't get an annulment because it takes the collusion of both husband and wife to annul , and his wife wouldn't go along with it.

We see from this that in effect, divorce has long been legal-- but only if both spouses agree. Thus, the big change now is to override the desire of one spouse to block divorce. If the facts in this article are correct, this suggests that Chile may have as high a marital breakdown rate as the US, with the 10% figure mentioned above just being the breakdowns in which only one spouse wants a divorce.

A little more than half of all Chilean children are born out of wedlock , many to couples who would have liked to get married but couldn't because one or both parents were still bound to a previous mate, according to specialists on the family.

I'm skeptical that lack of divorce is a major reason, given that annulments are easy and that most births would be to first marriages anyway. But this is a shocking figure anyway. Or has it always been that way in Chile, because marriages are informal?

Posted by erasmuse at October 5, 2004 09:59 AM

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