Allowing women to revert maiden surnames

UNDER PHILIPPINE laws, a couple wishing to terminate their marriage have limited options. They can file  legal separation, they can file for divorce if they are among the estimated five percent of the population governed by the Code of Muslim Personal Laws. Or they can get an annulment.

In the Philippines, the ground for most annulments (or more precisely, declaration of nullity of marriage) is psychological incapacity. A psychologist and your attorney will ask you to make a marital history which will form the basis of the petition and the psychological evaluation. While legal separation is a court-approved separation of husband and wife. It is not a divorce. Under legal separation, the marital obligations and the property relations between the spouses are ended, but the marriage bond is not dissolved unlike in divorce or annulment.

For an uncontested annulment case the time can be from six months to four years (when the spouse does not show up in court) depending on the availability of witnesses, custody of children or property issues to name a few. If the spouse does appear and any issues are contested then it may take even longer. For legal separation the petition must be filed in court within five years from the time of the occurrence of the particular ground/s. Unlike annulment, these grounds can have occurred during the marriage itself.

Annulment process comes at a hefty cost. In an episode of ‘Bawal ang Pasaway kay Mareng Winnie’, lawyer Raymund Fortun and Pro-Divorce PH chair Asliyah Limbona said getting annulled in the Philippines costs around Php 450,000. If the other party, however, contests the annulment case, costs can reach millions. While numerous couples who filed for legal separation – the cost to do so can vary heavily from a minimum of Php 100,000 or more. 
Article II, Section 14 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides “The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.” Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay has filed Senate Bill No. 116 otherwise known as “Reversion to Maiden Name Act”. In accordance with the Constitution this proposed measure removes the difficult, costly, and unnecessary court processes that women have to endure in order to revert to their maiden name. The State shall value the dignity and independence of women and guarantees full respect for their freedom of choice of surname. Hence, the State shall provide a method for reversion to maiden name to fully empower women to be truly independent in their social and economic affairs. 

In lieu of this bill, the following is proposed: (1) In instances of legal separation, annulment or declaration of nullity of their marriage, the women’s right to revert to her surname must be facilitated; (2) To provide for a procedure for a woman’s choice to revert to her maiden name, the Office of the Civil Registrar, the Department of Justice, the Department of Finance, the Supreme Court and other concerned agencies will be empowered; and (3) To change or correct entries in the civil register without a judicial order by expanding the scope of the civil registrar’s authority. 

No entry in a civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order, except as provided in this bill once enacted into law and under Republic Act No. 9048. A woman who is or was validly married may file a verified petition for reversion to her maiden name before the local civil registry office of the city or municipality where her record is kept. The petition for reversion to maiden name may be allowed in any of the following cases: (1) After a marriage has been judicially declared null and void or after its annulment; (2) After a judicial declaration of legal separation: Provided, That there has been no manifestation of reconciliation filed with the court; (3) After a judicial declaration of separation of property: Provided, That there has been no subsequent decree reviving the old property regime between the spouses; (4) If the spouses stipulated in their marriage settlement that a regime of separation of properties shall govern their property relations; (5) If the petitioner has been de facto separated from or abandoned by her husband for a period of not less than ten (10) years; or (6) If the petitioner’s husband may be presumed dead pursuant to the circumstances, periods and conditions set forth in the Civil Code of the Philippines and the Rules of Court. 

A prayer for reversion to one’s maiden name may be included in the following petitions: (1) Petition for declaration of nullity of a marriage; (2) Petition for annulment of a marriage; (3) Petition for legal separation; and (4) Petition for judicial declaration of separation of property.