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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Chileans granted right to divorce
A Chilean street
Most Chileans support the new divorce law
Chile's President Ricardo Lagos has signed a new law giving Chileans the right to divorce, despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

The law, approved by Congress in March, will take effect in six months.

Until now, Chilean couples could only have a marriage annulled by a civil registrar - but this did not give them the rights of a legal divorce.

Chile has long been one of only three countries in the world where divorce is banned by law.

Mr Lagos received a standing ovation after signing the law at a ceremony in the presidential palace, the BBC's Clinton Porteous in Santiago reports.

One of those in the audience was 58-year-old Maria Eugenia, who had been separated for seven years.

"I think it is a law we have been waiting for a long time," she told our correspondent.

"In my case I think I have all the proofs to show that I've been separated for the past seven years so I don't think it will take too long. It is a fantastic day for women in Chile," she added.

Avalanche of divorces expected

The Roman Catholic church has attacked the new legislation, saying it would threaten the family and undermine the sanctity of marriage.

Under the new law that overruns the 1884 marriage code, a couple may divorce a year after separating if both partners agree to split up. If one partner disagrees, a divorce is allowed after three years.

Tens of thousands of separated Chileans are expected to file divorce applications once the new legislation comes into effect.

Malta and the Philippines are the only other countries that currently do not have a divorce law.

The BBC's Mike Donkin
"Many Chileans have simply chosen to forgo marriages in recent years"

Chile Congress backs divorce law
11 Mar 04  |  Americas
Till the divorce law becomes legal
06 Oct 03  |  Americas
Chilean TV snubs anti-divorce ads
30 Sep 03  |  Americas
Church slams Chile divorce plans
19 Sep 03  |  Americas

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