Atty. Rami Amer G. Hourani
- Marriage is a common conversation topic in the Philippines.
- Marriage in the Philippines is something you just do.
- Filipinos don’t talk about how or why to do it.
- Prenuptial agreements are often not considered.
- Prenuptial agreements should be considered before a marriage.
There are touchy topics in the Philippines. Politics, sexuality, religion, and money are all taboo topics that Filipinos generally don’t talk about. (Unless they know they are surrounded by people who agree with them, in which case they will talk for hours.) There is one thing that is not a touchy topic though: Marriage.
The above picture depicts the rough mental image that every woman composes in her mind when she announces to all of her chronically single friends that her boyfriend has just proposed. Jokes aside though, anyone who has been in a relationship for any reasonable length of time will have been asked the question “So when are you guys going to get married?” Whether its in a smoky bar with the bros, or at a sumptuous brunch with the bitchesas, marriage is a light topic everyone is comfortable with bringing up. Even the single by vocation will be mercilessly interrogated on the hypothetical date of their marriage.
While the event itself though is easy conversation fair, other things about it are definitely not. Let me sound off a few examples: “What does marriage mean to you specifically?”; “Why do you want to marry him/her specifically?”; “What do your parents think that he/she isn’t as well off as you?”; “Aren’t you worried it could end?”; “If he/she left you for someone else, how do you think you’d handle it?”. Any one of these questions has the potential to bring the gears of a conversation to a grinding halt. The typical approach to marriage is that it is just another one of the boxes to tick in this thing called life. I’m writing this article though to disabuse you of this notion.
I’m not a psychologist, sociologist, historian, or philosopher. I’m a lawyer so I’m a cheap imitation of all those things. Therefore, if I speak on a matter outside of the law, feel free to disregard my opinion, all I ask is you reflect on what I have to say. Love as we know it now, the deep and personal commitment to one person and only that person because of their personality, looks, identity, intelligence and compatibility of personality, is a new thing. If you talk with someone over the age of 65, and ask them what they knew about their husband or wife to be before actually getting married, they will probably tell you that they knew very little about them.
In a different time, marriage was just a thing that respectable people did. The way it is defined in religion is an important consideration for many but I won’t open that Pandora’s box in this short blog post. What love means today though is very different, when we marry someone they need to be our: best friend, business partner, co-parent, emotional support system, and ideal sexual partner all rolled into one. Understandably, many marriages fall short of this very high standard. Some of those failures will be in a spectacular and gossip worth fashion. The vast majority of those failures will slowly begin to sputter as the “spark” grows dimmer over a very long amount of time.
Everyone knows someone, who is in a failed marriage. The peculiar thing about a failed marriage in the Philippines is that they often persist in a state of undeath because we do not permit divorce in our laws. The process of ending a marriage in the Philippines, known as annulment, is a long and complicated process at the best of times. It is made considerably more long and complicated though by one of the taboo topics that I mentioned at the start of this article… money.
When people get married in the Philippines, long story short, they give each other everything they own and everything they will ever come to own. Let that sink in. Rent checks from a condo? It’s now also your wife’s. Won the PCSO sweepstakes? Better celebrate with your husband. Is your dad/mom always commenting about how lazy your SO is? It might be because he/she knows that when they pass away there’s a chance that the business they worked so hard for will be owned by them. This is something you should know if you decide to get married. However, what you should be much more interested in is what happens if a marriage begins to go poorly.
I’m sure all of you will understand that if the marriage ends then you will need to divide everything in half. This is simple in principle. Terribly difficult in practice. There is a saying amongst lawyers “Criminal Lawyers meet bad people at their best, Divorce Lawyers meet good people at their worst.” This is because inevitably, one person in the marriage may be considerably more wealthy than the other. This creates perverse incentives on the part of the spouse with more property to hide as much as possible and the spouse with less to be as litigious as possible. There are however ways to avoid this.
This is through a document known as a prenuptial agreement. There is a long discussion to be had in law school about what this document is, for your purposes though you need to know two things. First, it is an agreement as to how to handle property in a marriage, Second, it cannot be entered into after the marriage has already happened. It may seem a little dispassionate to talk about money at the start of something as optimistic as a marriage. However, if you knew that there was a good chance of rain, wouldn’t you give “bringing an umbrella” a quick thought. In the Philippines, the number of annulment cases pending in court goes up every year. Nobody wants to be part of that statistic, but if you found yourself in that scenario you’ll thank your lucky stars you let me talk you into bringing this “umbrella”.
If you’re sitting there with your fiancé and you love them to bits and can imagine no situation of leaving them. You see no need at all for a prenuptial agreement. Let me just ask one question. Let’s pose a hypothetical scenario. There’s a coin toss that happens in every marriage. The winner of the coin toss has to make a decision as to how to divide the property in case the marriage ends. The only choice that the husband and wife get to make together is when to flip the coin. They can flip it at the start of the marriage, or at the end. When would you choose to flip the coin?
Would the two of you make it at the start while both of you are full of love? or would you make it at the end when both of you are full of hate?
Thank you for making it to the end of my article. I sincerely hope you never need my advice.
Atty. Hourani practices law in Cebu City. If you would like to set an appointment with him, you may reach him here.