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First Chilean is allowed to seek divorce

By Associated Press
Published November 19, 2004

SANTIAGO, Chile - A 48-year-old woman became the first person in Chilean history to file for divorce Thursday, ushering in a new era for this heavily Roman Catholic country that had been the last in South America with no divorce law.

The justice minister called the new law a historic step, but Maria Victoria Torres said it was far more personal: "a window that opens to look at a new life with dignity, without fear."

As the Santiago Court of Appeals opened its doors Thursday, Torres was first in line.

Torres, a beauty parlor assistant who has been married for 25 years, has been separated from her husband for months. The couple have two grown children.

Others filed for divorce at courts around the country, although the avalanche of petitions many predicted did not occur.

Chile's Congress passed the law six months ago, defying the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church, which waged a strong campaign against it that included television ads.

About 87 percent of Chileans consider themselves Catholic.

The country was among the last in the world without a divorce law, and the last in South America after Paraguay allowed divorce in the 1980s. Other countries that still do not allow divorce include Malta and the Philippines.

"This is a historic day for our nation," Justice Minister Luis Bates said, while also urging Chileans to be cautious before seeking a divorce.

Until now, Chilean couples with failing marriages were forced to obtain annulments, often resorting to subterfuge.

It was common, for example, for one of the partners to declare before a court that their marriage was illegal because one spouse reported a false address at the time of the wedding. Some 6,000 annulments were approved every year in the country of 15.5-million.

[Last modified November 18, 2004, 23:59:17]

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