Looking back to my childhood, it took months for a couple to get divorced and required parents and relatives on both sides to sit down and discuss and mediate their problems.
Previously women were reluctant to leave their husbands due to the social stigma attached, fearing that they would not be able to find another husband.
But the situation has reversed as more and more people file petitions for divorce with the courts. About 70 per cent are submitted by women wanting to divorce their husbands rather than men asking to divorce their wives.
It seems that traditional beliefs no longer prevent people from getting a divorce. The reasons behind this are related to several factors.
The main ones stem from drug use (mostly amphetamines) and poverty. Other reasons are related to extravagance, parents neglecting their families, and other issues relating to economic pressures.
According to a report issued by the People’s Supreme Court in July, most family-related legal cases involved couples filing for divorce.
The report stated that about 1,010 families have so far submitted cases to people's courts across the country this fiscal year, of which 855 cases were requests for divorce.
Economic pressures and the desire for greater material wealth is also leading to higher rates of divorce and more women are now willing to leave their husbands if they cannot provide for them.
Several women who have divorced their husbands recently said they would not tolerate men who cheat on them or always hang out with their friends and go on overnight drinking sessions, neglecting their responsibilities to their families.
Some men have mistresses known in Lao (Mia Noi) – a situation that most wives find unacceptable.
It’s quite interesting to note that parents in Laos play an influential role on their children’s decision to get married or divorced.
Some parents ask their daughters to divorce their husbands if their husbands have been taking drugs, indulge in excessive drinking or are very poor.
Many rich parents matched their children, but after marriage, many couples ended up seeking a divorce as they seemed not to care about one another.
The question is why parents in Laos are so influential on their children’s decisions to marry and the answer could be related to the fact that Lao people have great respect for their parents.
To prevent problems from escalating, parents should not interfere in their children’s decisions concerning divorce but should just give advice if their children wish.
Concerning men asking to divorce their wives, this mostly occurs because their wives were playing cards a lot or committing adultery, which is unacceptable to most Lao men.
But who suffers most from divorce? Of course, the divorce will have negative impacts on the wellbeing of a couple’s children, who may not understand or appreciate their parents’ problems.
The problem in Laos is that law enforcement is weak. Husbands or wives are supposed to provide financial support or care for their children until they reach the age of 18 based on court verdicts, but in many cases they fail to do this.
Another significant feature is that counselling services are critical in Laos so that children, after their parents’ divorce, can benefit from social services.
The social services will allow those children to meet people who are in the same situation to discuss how to sort things out.
Divorce leaves scars on all children, though its marks may show immediately or surface decades later, say counsellors and family lawyers.
In Singapore, studies by the authorities in 2000 and 2001 found that 54 per cent of male and 30 per cent of female juvenile offenders had divorced parents.
But more commonly, the impact is seen in the child's social, emotional and intellectual development.
“When left alone to struggle with the losses and changes, they may develop academic, social and emotional problems such as difficulties in developing relationships and forming families in the future,” said Nooraini Razak, manager at the PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre.
Some teenagers choose to act out their anguish, said the Head of Reach Counselling in Singapore, Chang-Goh Song Eng. “Teens may indulge in smoking or gang behaviour, miss school and become extremely defiant.”
In Laos, there are no official reports on the fate of children who suffer from their parents’ split but we are sad to note that many children turn to drug abuse, prostitution and other illegal activities after their parents’ divorce.
It seems to me that the fate of those children is just to try and survive and make the best of things and they are unlikely to receive opportunities to go on to higher education as other children do.
How can this issue be resolved? It’s critical for this issue to be brought into national debate and to the government’s attention by allowing people to openly discuss ways to help children, to prevent them becoming involved in various crimes.
The provision of counselling services would be one way to help mitigate the traumatic effects of divorce on children, equipping them with the necessary skills to manage their feelings and develop resilience.
The People’s Court in Laos will consider a divorce case based on nine possible reasons, as stipulated in Article 20 of the Family Law.
Grounds for divorce include adultery; the use of violence or gross insults against each other or parents or relatives or seriously inappropriate attitudes making co-habitation impossible - such as regular drinking or gambling; or spouses who abandon the family without informing them or sending news or goods for their family for more than three years running.
Other reasons are if the husband becomes a monk or novice or the wife becomes a nun; if the spouse has been convicted of a criminal offence and the penalty imposed is imprisonment of more than five years; if a partner suffers from a serious disease making co-habitation impossible; if a partner suffers from a mental illness making co-habitation impossible; a partner’s incapacity when it comes to sexual acts; and incompatibility of spouses making co-habitation impossible.
However, the court and the authorities do not encourage divorce, requiring couples who wish to separate to go through various processes before they will grant permission.
The Family Law does not allow a husband to ask for divorce during his wife’s pregnancy or when a newly born child has not yet reached one year of age.
Couples who wish to divorce must go through mediation at the family level attended by the parents and relatives from both sides. If they cannot agree, mediation will move to the village level before the court accepts the case for consideration.
However, the courts will consider a case immediately if a husband takes drugs or beats his wife and children.
Prior to this, Lao women relied mainly on their husbands for an income to support the family. These days, more women are better educated and are employed in the higher ranks of government.
Some become business leaders who are the primary income earners in their families.
Because of women’s increasing independence, some decide to divorce their husbands if they feel they don’t receive enough affection or if their husbands cannot play the role of protecting and taking care of their families.
It’s obvious that some couples nowadays don’t have enough time to meet and talk to understand one another, which partially drives the divorces.
But for the sake of their children parents need to make more effort to maintain their relationships because it is they who will suffer the most if their parents split up.
Couples may quarrel from time to time but divorce is pretty much permanent and it is sad to see good relationships go bad due to material ambitions or an inability to work things out.