Forty years of divorce law: the first step on the road to equality



June 22, 1981 The divorce law was approved in Spain, a historic milestone in a conservative society emerging from a long dictatorship and which was “the first step towards equality”, recalls forty years later one of its main promoters.

At 86 years old, Ana Maria Perez del Campo continues to preside over the Federation of Associations of separated and divorced women and, in an interview with Efe, recalls why in the midst of the Franco regime a struggle began to achieve a divorce law and advance equality.

“We were minors for everything. marital authorization to open a bank account, to work, travel and even hire a school, “he explains.

Associations in the dictatorship

Although the law came in the early years of the Spanish democracy, their struggle began much earlier, under a dictatorship that forced many women to act with discretion and secrecy so as not to be persecuted for their ideals.

Pérez del Campo and his partner Mabel Perez Serrano They managed to get their organization authorized in 1974, keeping their true purpose hidden from the General Directorate of Security.

“At no time did we tell them the objective of our organization – which was to get the divorce law approved – we explained to them that it was going to be an association so that women abandoned by their husbands would have someone to be with and where to go. If not, they would not have listened to us “, details.

By not being able to work outside the home without prior authorization of the husband, There were many who did not dare to take the step of going to court to request separation, because they did not have financial resources, or a pension to guarantee that they would be able to take care of their children, he recalls.

“Women were a zero to the left, and before that you can settle or fight to change it; and that last was what Mabel and I did, although with many respects because Franco was still living “, he relates.

What God has joined

Pérez del Campo tells his own experience, how he had to wait nine years since he filed the separation claim before the ecclesiastical courts until it was granted.

“They thought that in that period the couple would come together again (…) It was then that we decided that we had to fight to return to civil jurisdiction the competence that the Church had… that’s where the fight for the divorce law began ”, he says.

Remember also one of the protests that led in the early years of democracy, when a dozen women he chained himself to the bars of the ecclesiastical courts of Madrid. By not giving the keys to the police, the agents cut the chains, took them to the cell, and fined them 25,000 pesetas each.

“We did not pay it because we took the case to court and they told us that we had every right in the world to demonstrate. You have to have the courage and the certainty that what you are doing is not a crime, but a fight for your rights ”, he remarks.

The objective was not only to legalize the marriage breakdown, but to be able to form a new family and be able to recognize the new children.

“Before there were different types of children: the natural ones, those of single mothers; the legitimate ones, those contracted in marriage; the adulterous ones, those that were had when one of the parties was married; and the sacrilegious, when he was the son of a priest”, Details the president of the Federation.

The divorce law came from the hand of the then Minister of Justice of the Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD), Francisco Fernández Ordóñez, with whom Pérez del Campo and his colleagues negotiated a draft.

One of the milestones, highlights Pérez del Campo, that the law included a compensatory pension that would allow women to stop feeling dependent on their husband.

“The divorce law was the first step towards equality. Our next goals were the approval of abortion and the right to marry people of the same sex “, highlights.

The first divorce

Antonio Sarabia was the lawyer for the first divorce that was formalized in Spain, on September 7, 1981, headed by Julia Ibars and Vidal Gutiérrez.

As he has told Efe, this couple came to him because of the friendship they shared during high school and because they were a divorce by mutual consent and not having children, the procedures were simple and the court’s decision quick.

“I still had to study itr. It was something new that we had never done before “, remember.

For Sarabia, “the divorce meant opening a historical stage in the social and legal aspects and it allowed the extinction of the bond between two people and not only the marital separation. Society was demanding such a law. ”

The fear of many people, he remarks, was that divorce could facilitate the breakdown of many marriages and families, but it was nothing more than “The legalization of a rupture already made. Those who opposed were those who lived with their backs to social reality ”.

For the lawyer, obtaining the approval of the divorce law has brought normality, good sense and freedom, in addition to favoring the liberation of women to a great extent, by ceasing to be subject to the authority of the husband.

Still, he regrets the slowness with which the law is applied today, because “There is no justice more unjust than slow”, has declared.

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