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Divorce Is Now Legal in Argentina but, So Far, Few Couples Have Taken the Break

July 12, 1987|RANDALL HACKLEY | Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Divorce now is legal in Argentina but there has been no surge of unhappy couples into the courtroom.

Civil courts in Buenos Aires, the largest city, reported only about 60 divorce cases in the first week of a new law permitting divorce for the first time since 1955. Civil courts in Rosario reported 20 and Cordoba and Mendoza, the other main cities, had 14 each.

Supporters of the new law had said as many as 1.5 million of Argentina's 31 million people could benefit from the divorce law. Many couples have been separated for years and unable to remarry under the old law.

Adverse Reaction Feared

Authorities said they are not sure why divorce cases were so few, but Argentina is heavily Roman Catholic and some suggested that couples may fear an adverse reaction from their priests.

The church has declared the law "unjust and contrary to the nation's well-being because it reverses and falsifies the naturalness of marriage, indissoluble by right and necessity and for the children born of the fruit of their union."

It even recommended last year that congressmen and senators who voted for divorce be denied the sacrament of Communion until they publicly reverse their position.

Approved in May

The original bill, a comprehensive reform of marital separation, divorce and remarriage rights, was approved by a 5-1 margin by Congress' House of Deputies last August, but it wasn't until May that the Senate approved the measure with slight modification.

The Senate had delayed its debate until after the visit in April of Pope John Paul II, who in two speeches here condemned divorce as immoral and a threat to the family.

President Raul Alfonsin, who had taken no public stand on the divorce issue, signed the measure into law June 8 and it became effective June 22.

No More Legal Limbo

On that day, a 34-year-old woman became the first person in Argentina in 32 years to get a divorce. She had been abandoned 11 years ago by her husband.

"I'm proud to have been the first to use a law that has been long-awaited by Argentine society, one that permits the normalization of so many situations placed in legal limbo by ancient legislation," said Mario Raul Dubois, lawyer for the woman, whom he refused to identify.

"In my case, my client had been abandoned by her spouse under an old law that condemned her to eternal separation, while now, she is able to renew her life and within the framework of the law."

As Monday, June 22, dawned, several enterprising vendors at the Civil Court in Buenos Aires sold copies of a special edition booklet entitled, "Divorce Law, No. 23.515."

Previously Banned

Norberto Gullo, an attorney who obtained a divorce for his client in 24 minutes that day, grasped one of the booklets and said, "Perhaps my name will be in a history book as (one of the first attorneys) to gain a divorce in Argentina."

Except for a 10-month period in 1954-55, divorce had been banned in Argentina since colonial days.

Under the new law, any couple married for more than three years can obtain a divorce through a civil court after a one-year separation, or a no-fault divorce after a separation of three years. Remarriage is permitted immediately after a divorce has been approved.

The marriage age was raised two years, to 16 for women and 18 for men. Alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, adultery, violence and desertion are grounds for divorce, and mothers will gain custody of children younger than 5.

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