Despite opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative groups, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos signed the “Chilean Marriage Law” granting Chileans the legal right to divorce. Chile was the last country in South America where divorce was still illegal. According to the Santiago Times, under the new law, couples can divorce after being separated for one year if both spouses agree to split and after three years if one spouse wants to divorce. In addition, a divorce can be obtained at any time if a spouse is found guilty of violence against a family member, abandons the house, homosexuality, drug or alcohol addiction, infidelity, or a criminal conviction.
Maria Victoria Torres, one of the first Chileans to file for divorce, based her request for divorce on the “25 years of continued violence” she endured from her husband, reports the Associated Press. After filing for divorce, Torres asserted “there were many people filing for divorce today, but my case was the most emblematic. I’ve been humiliated by my husband for 25 years, and now I feel incredibly happy. This is a victory, a tremendous law that protects us women greatly.”
According to the government agency in charge of promoting equal rights and opportunities for women in Chile, “a huge number of women are victims of domestic violence perpetrated by their husband or partner,” reports the Santiago Times. 80,000 women report cases of abuse in Chile annually, with estimates that for every one reported case there are five that go unreported.