When Mexico City lawyer Ismael Guevara Galindo thinks back about all the divorcing couples he has seen in the last few years, a trend pops out: they’re young, mostly between 25 and 35, and haven’t been married for very long.
“They simply get married for, I don’t know, perhaps, sexual or physical attraction,” he says. “They get married for nothing more than to get married.”
In 2008, the Federal District approved “uncaused" or no-fault divorce, otherwise known as “express divorce.”
Now, the requesting spouse no longer has to prove physical or verbal abuse or various other reasons to dissolve the marriage. Even the most messily intertwined couples can divorce after a judge approves an initial agreement and battle through time-consuming custody or support negotiations later, if need be.
The old process could easily lasted years. With express divorce, it’s often over in a mere month or two.
(There was a fast-track process that existed – and still exists – before express divorce, but it only applied to couples that met certain conditions, such as being childless and not possessing jointly-owned property.)
Since its inception, the number of Federal District couples that have divorced has escalated by roughly 50 percent, from 12,108 in 2008 to 18,184 last year, according to the city’s Legal Counseling and Legal Services office, which offers free legal services to low income citizens.
The upswing has ushered in a busy new era for divorce lawyers.
Guevara Galindo was one of 20 listed exhibitors at Mexico City’s first Divorce and Widowhood Expo, for example, which took place in early July and sought to cater to the new wave of separated, divorced or just plain anguished-and-considering-action individuals.
Contrary to Guevara Galindo’s experience, the expo’s crowd looked to be, on average, in their 40s – probably not all troubled newlyweds. Strikingly, there was nary a man in sight, except for vendors and workshop leaders.
The heavily female crowd mirrors patterns in the Federal District. The city’s Legal Counseling office reports that, last year, 6,866 people made telephone inquiries about beginning divorce proceedings: 64 percent of callers were women and 36 were men. The first six months of 2011 show almost identical percentages: 65 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
The event’s workshops mostly possessed an emotional or therapeutic angle, like, “And what now? Sexuality in divorce and widowhood.”
But not all the gatherings were tear-jerking downers. The second day’s schedule included a session of laugh therapy, involving multi-colored balloons, red clown-like noses and various silly exercises. (During one role-play game, a group acted like penguins.)
Later on, Good Divorce, a local law firm, mounted their own play. The synopsis in the expo’s program: “Silvia, separated from her husband for ten years, has never made the decision to divorce …will she be able to become the master of her destiny?”
Attendees flocked to the play and other workshops, mostly eschewing the exhibitor's stands.
Perhaps, divorce counseling is lacking in Mexico, in general. Héctor Javier Ocampo Martínez, a subdirector from the city’s Legal Counseling office, said that the divorcing women he sees need more psychological support as they enter and complete proceedings, lest they fall into a depression.
“They go through a painful process, but very likely, they don’t leave that painful process,” he said.
Following a workshop titled “Learning again to love…Do you suffer for love,” Claudia, a resident of Mexico State just outside the city, sat outside the expo’s main hall enjoying an early evening snack with her friend. Both women, in their 30s, had marriages lasting less than five years.
Claudia believes express divorce removes a machista element from the process, she said. Before, if both spouses weren’t in agreement over the divorce, the process was almost certainly contentious and lengthy since the requesting spouse had to legally prove problems in the marriage. Now, women don’t fear such a traumatic process.
“With express divorce, you don’t need permission from the other person,” said Claudia.
One attendee, Gabriela García Sánchez, said she had been married for 19 years and had two teenage children. She had already begun express divorce proceedings, but after roughly four months, her supposedly speedy divorce was still dragging on while she and her husband defined initial terms, particularly spousal support payments.
“I don’t feel like it’s been a big help,” she said about express divorce.
Overall, legal assistant Denisse Perras Elizondo believes express divorce has been a force for good in the Federal District, except for one aspect: “I don’t think it’s better for the children,” she says. Before the reform, the parents mulled over the divorce more because the process was so often drawn-out and stressful.
Now, “first comes the divorce,” says Perras Elizondo.
Ruth Samuelson is a freelance writer living in Mexico City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.