Italian Senate Passes 'Speedy Divorce' Bill

(photo: Wikipedia)

The Italian senate yesterday overwhelmingly passed a bill which will drastically speed up divorce proceedings.

228 senators backed the bill, with just 11 against and 11 abstentions. Due to additional amendments made by the senate, it must now go back to Italy’s parliament for final and expected approval.

At present, divorces in Italy can be granted after three years of consensual separation. The proposed changes will significantly reduce that time period to six months, or a year if one side contests the split.

The new measures also include separation of assets: the bill stipulates they should be divided the moment a court authorizes a couple to live separately.

The senate amendments eliminated proposed provisions for immediate divorce without the need for a separation phase.

Italy is one of the few countries to continue to enforce waiting times between separation and divorce.

In its report on Wednesday’s vote, the Italian daily Il Giornale compared the legislative proposals with the Church’s rules on annulments, and pointed out that, although declarations of nullity are not divorce as they confirm a marriage never existed, ecclesiastical procedures are often faster and more streamlined.

“On balance, it’s almost a competitive alternative to civil divorce,” said Vincenzo Di Michele, quoted from his book Come sciogliere un matrimonio alla Sacra Rota (How to Dissolve a Marriage at the Roman Rota).

Pope Francis last year set up a commission to examine the possibilities of streamlining the procedure still further, but with the intention of safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony. He has also said he would ideally like annulments to be free of charge.

Last September, Archbishop Bruno Forte, special secretary to the Synod on the Family, proposed in an article in L’Osservatore Romano that annulments could be streamlined by eliminating one of two mandatory sentences if there’s no appeal from one or both parties within a defined time. And according to the final report of the synod, "a great number of synod fathers" wanted to make nullity procedures "more accessible and less time-consuming, and, if possible, at no expense."

But speaking last September, Cardinal Raymond Burke, then-prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, urged caution before proceeding with such reforms, stressing that the two-step annulment process “is not a mere matter of procedure, but that the process is essentially connected with the doctrinal truth” of the Church. Such changes, he said, would “only further encourage a defective view of marriage and the family.”