Philippines eyes easier marriage annulment

A couple holds hands showing their wedding rings during a wedding in Manila The bill is likely to face a tough challenge from Congress and the powerful Catholic Church

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A bill has been put forward in the Philippine Congress aimed at making it easier for poor people to get their marriages annulled.

The bill would make violence, infidelity and abandonment all grounds for annulment.

The Philippines is one of the few places in the world - alongside the Vatican and Malta - where divorce is still prohibited.

Annulments are currently too expensive for anyone but the rich to contemplate.

First, couples have to prove that their marriage licence is not valid or that one person is, in legal terms at least, psychologically incapacitated.

It is an expensive procedure, and Congressman Neri Colmenares says the system discriminates against those who cannot afford to hire lawyers and psychiatrists.

He wants the bill to be simplified, so that anyone who can prove their partner has been violent, abandoned the family home or is guilty of infidelity is automatically assumed to have a form of "psychological incapacity".

Mr Colmenares is from a minority party, and he is likely to face a tough challenge, not just from opponents in Congress but also the powerful Catholic Church.

But whether his bill succeeds or not, it highlights a glaring disparity - while poor people can be trapped for years in abusive marriages, it is not uncommon for the rich to have more than one marriage annulled.

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