Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Proposed Civil Code Brings Puerto Rico into the Modern Age

By on November 23, 2016

SAN JUAN – Reducing the age of majority from 21 to 18; regulating parentage issues arising from the use of donor sperm or ovum or surrogate mothers; elimination of the causes of divorce in favor of no-fault divorce; and allowing a sick person to die with dignity are just some of the items in the proposed Civil Code the Puerto Rico Legislature is evaluating.

While the proposed Civil Code has been before the Legislature for the past 20 years, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) controlled Legislature has refused to bring it to a vote, fearing the electoral consequences of some of the code’s controversial provisions. Now, the Legislature is evaluating the Civil Code during the 20 days allotted for its underway special session, even though getting the votes required seems unlikely.

After taking over the Judiciary Committee from Rep. Luis Vega Ramos (PDP-at large), who was stripped from its chairmanship, Rep. José Luis Báez (PDP-District 4: Cupey, San Juan) said he asked numerous times for a vote on the bill, but was told it would hurt the PDP.

The code in the past was opposed by fundamentalist groups, primarily because it granted rights to same-sex couples, a consideration that is irrelevant today because of the Supreme Court ruling that allows same-sex marriages. The approval of a new code was halted under the administration of Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (NPP-At large) from 2008 to 2012. Rivera Schatz went further and dissolved the special committee that had spent 10 years drafting a new Civil Code. Báez said the bill needs to be evaluated again because it is a new administration, but the task requires time.

“This is a very big bill. You cannot evaluate it in 20 days,” he said, adding that there are also numerous changes to evaluate in the Health Insurance Code. The Civil Code has the support of the Justice Department, but the Puerto Rico Bar Association says it must go through public hearings first.

The Civil Code, which is contained in Senate Bill 1710, is the body of laws that regulates contracts, property, inheritance, family relations and marriage. The proposed code will grow as laws are added to a private international chapter that would regulate the relationship of an individual within an international context.

Senate President Eduardo Bhatia rejected this week, during the start of public hearings, the argument that there is insufficient time to evaluate the code, adding that there have been numerous hearings over the past 20 years. He noted that while the family-related laws in the code have raised objections, 90% of the code has to do with other matters.

One of the changes brought up by the Civil Code is that conflict resolution mediation is preferred to court proceedings to resolve family disputes. About 30% of the cases in the courts involve family disputes, according to the Court Administration Office. SB 1710 says that because of the sensitivity of some of the issues, the legislation favors mediation, including for divorce cases to ensure respect among the parties involved.

Wood gavel, bunch of keys, scales and stack of old books against the background of a row of antique books bound in leather

Another interesting change is that it opts to bring gender equality by allowing parents to decide if they want to switch the last names of their baby, allowing the mother’s last name to be used first and the father’s last name to appear second. In Puerto Rico, children use the father’s last name first followed by the mother’s last name.

The Civil Code will also reduce the majority age to 18, but language in the code would require parents to continue to provide financial support for their children if their offspring are unable to do so. A son or daughter who seeks financial support from a parent to complete postgraduate studies would be able to obtain that support if he or she can prove the economic assistance is deserved.

On the other hand, incarcerating a parent for failing to pay child support would be the last resort, according to the new code, and would only occur after a dead-beat parent has routinely ignored court orders to pay.

Read the full story in the print edition of Caribbean Business on newsstands Thursday.

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