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Wed, Dec 29, 1999 - Page 4 News List

Divorce law reform urged

NO-FAULT Women's rights activists say the current system requiring the proof of `fault' in order to get a court-ordered divorce is strongly weighted against women

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Several legislators and women's groups are calling for reform of Taiwan's divorce laws and the introduction of "no-fault" divorce.

In Taiwan, a couple can obtain a divorce in two ways, either by mutual agreement or through a ruling in the courts on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, confinement in prison, physical incapacity or several other "faults."

With the divorce rate on the rise -- it jumped from 0.62 percent in 1978 to 2 percent in 1998 -- some people think it is too easy to get divorced in Taiwan.

Women's rights activists, however, disagree that it is too easy to obtain a divorce through the courts.

Both sides of the debate were presented during a public hearing on the issue at the Legislative Yuan yesterday that was attended by Ying Chih-hung (營志宏) and three other legislators and four women's groups.

Divorce by agreement, a device unique to Taiwan, is said to have made it too easy to end a marriage.

"Buy a divorce agreement from a stationery store, get two friends to sign it attesting to how unbearable your marriage is and then sign your own names on the documents -- that's all you have to do to end a marriage," said legislator Ying, who was a practicing lawyer in the US.

"It's easy for a couple to get very irrational during a quarrel. But a divorce agreement signed under such circumstances could often leave both of them regretting it for the rest of their lives," he said.

On the other hand, women's rights activists, who have long pressed for relaxing the existing restrictions on divorce, think going through the courts for a "fault" divorce is often too hard for some women.

"Many compare modern marriage to an instant meal, which comes and goes quickly. But that's only partially true," said Chen Mei-hua (陳美華), secretary-general of the Awakening Foundation (婦女新知), a women's rights group.

"The process of getting married could be like having an instant meal. But getting a divorce is quite another story. Until the day they actually get divorced, a lot of women have tasted bitter meals of adultery or violence," she said.

"Some people say it's not a good thing to have more and more couples divorcing each year. But is it a good thing to see the very poor conditions persist in lots of marriages?" Chen asked.

Normally in any divorce request, the "non-fault" spouse is required to present concrete evidence of their partner's marital misconduct. To many people's relief, however, a number of recent court decisions have made a divorce possible even though none of the fault grounds was alleged.

Putting less emphasis on "proof of fault," these courts have granted divorce requests on the basis of a legal provision that allows a divorce when a marriage is no longer sustainable for "important reasons" other than the marital conduct referred to in the law.

However, the results of court rulings often vary from one judge to another because of their diverse views on marriage. And so there have often been cases where a divorce request is granted by a district court judge only to be dismissed later by a High Court judge.

Huang Shan-shan (黃珊珊), a Taipei city councilor and a divorce lawyer, said she found that the subjectivity of judges very much affects their decisions on divorce requests.

"The gap has to be bridged by setting standards for the judges. We're hoping the judges won't make decisions based on their own views about marriage, but based on factual conditions of the marriages [in the divorce cases before them]," Huang said.

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