Interacting Legal Norms and Cross-Border Divorce: Stories of Filipino Migrant Women in the Netherlands


  • Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot Laboratory of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds (LAMC), Institute of Sociology, Université libre de Bruxelles



measuring religiosity, conceptual approaches, refugees


The Philippines is one of only two states in the world in which absolute divorce remains largely impossible. Through its family laws, it regulates the marriage, family life and conjugal separation of its citizens, including its migrants abroad. To find out how these family laws interact with those in the receiving country of Filipino migrants and shape their lives, the present paper examines the case of Filipino women who experienced or are undergoing divorce in the Netherlands. Drawing from semi-structured interviews and an analysis of selected divorce stories, it unveils the intertwined institutions of marriage and of divorce, the constraints but also possibilities that interacting legal norms bring in the life of Filipino women, and the way these migrants navigate such norms within their transnational social spaces. These findings contribute interesting insights into cross-border divorces in the present age of global migration.

Author Biography

Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot, Laboratory of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds (LAMC), Institute of Sociology, Université libre de Bruxelles

Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot is a permanent research associate of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS) and senior lecturer (maître d’enseignement) at the Laboratory of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds (LAMC) of the Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). Her on-going research examines the contextual mobility of Belgian-Asian couples, a research programme supported by the FRS-FNRS and by a “Concerted Research Action (ARC) Consolidation” grant from the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. Her recent publications include the edited Special Issue “Transnational perspectives on intersecting experiences: gender, social class and generation among Southeast Asian migrants and their families” (with Kyoko Shinozaki, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 2017) and the edited volume International marriages and marital citizenship. Southeast Asian women on the move (with Gwénola Ricordeau, Routledge 2017).


Allen, D. and Brinig, M. (1998). "Sex, Property Rights, and Divorce." European Journal of Law and Economics, 5 (3): 211-233.

Fresnoza-Flot, A. (2012). "Security in labor migration in the Philippines: National honor, family solidarity, and migrants' protection," in Benny Teh Cheng Guan (ed.), Human security: Securing East Asia's future, London & New York: Springer, pp. 97-115.

Baier, M. (ed.). (2013). Social and Legal Norms. Towards a Socio-Legal Understanding of Normativity. Surrey and Burlington: Ashgate.

Bélanger, D. and Linh T.G. (2011). "The Impact of Transnational Migration on Gender and Marriage in Sending Communities of Vietnam." Current Sociology 59 (1): 59-77.

Boylan, K. A. (2007). "Revolutionary and Not-So-Revolutionary Negotiations in Catholic Annulment, Bigamy, and Divorce Trials: the Archdiocese of Mexico, 1929-40". In: M. Butler (ed.), Faith and Impiety in Revolutionary Mexico. New York, Houndmills, Basingstoke and Hampshire: Palgrave, pp. 167-183.

CBS (2017). Population; Sex, Age, Origin and Generation, 1 January. Available at Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek: (accessed 18 December 2017).

CFO (2016). Number of Filipino Spouses and Other Partners of Foreign Nationals by Sex: 1989-2015. Available at Commission on Filipinos Overseas: (accessed 14 March 2017).

Constable, N. (2003). "A Perspective on Divorce and Marriage: Filipina Wives and Workers." Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 10 (2): 163-180.

De Hart, B., van Rossum, W. M. and Sportel, I. (2013). "Law in the Everyday Lives of Transnational Families: An Introduction." Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 3 (6): 991-1003.

Emery, R. E. (2012). Renegotiating Family Relationships: Divorce, Child Custody, and Mediation. New York and London: Guilford Press.

Estin, A.L. and Stark, B. (2007). Global Issues in Family Law. Minnesota: Thomson/West.

Eurostat (2018). Crude Divorce Rate, Selected Years, 1960-2016 (per 1000 Persons). Available at:,_selected_years,_1960-2016_(per_1_000_persons).png (accessed 1 January 2019).

Faist, T. (2004). "Towards a Political Sociology of Transnationalization: The State of the Art in Migration Research." European Journal of Sociology, 45 (3): 331-366.

Frank, R. and Wildsmith, E. (2005). "The Grass Widows of Mexico: Migration and Union Dissolution in a Binational Context." Social Forces, 83 (3): 919-947.

Hooker, M. B. (1975). Legal Pluralism: An Introduction to Colonial and Neo-colonial Laws. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kalmijn, M. and Poortman, A.-R. (2006). "His or Her Divorce? The Gendered Nature of Divorce and its Determinants." European Sociological Review, 22 (2): 201-214.

Kim, D.-S. (2010). "The Rise of Cross-Border Marriage and Divorce in Contemporary Korea." In: W.-S. Yang and M. C.-W. Lu (eds.), Asian Cross-Border Marriage Migration. Demographic Patterns and Social Issues. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 127-153.

Kulk, F. and de Hart, B. (2013). "Mixed Couples and Islamic Family Law in Egypt: Legal Consciousness in Transnational Social Space." Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 3 (6): 1057-1069.

Marcus, G. E. (1995). "Ethnography in/ of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography." Annual Review of Anthropology, 24: 95-117.

Ministry of Security and Justice. (2017). Factsheet. Could I Lose My Dutch Nationality Automatically? And How Can I Avoid This? The Hague: Communications Department, Ministry of Security and Justice. Available at: (accessed 18 July 2019).

NSO (2014). The Philippines in Figures 2014. Available at National Statistics Office: (accessed 15 March 2017).

Pribilsky, J. (2004). "'Aprendemos a Convivir': Conjugal Relations, Co-Parenting, and Family Life Among Ecuadorian Transnational Migrants in New York City and the Ecuadorian Andes." Global Networks, 4 (3): 313-334.

Quah, S. 2018. "Emotional Reflexivity and Emotion Work in Transnational Divorce Biographies." Emotion, Space and Society, 29: 48-54.

Qureshi, K. (2017). Marital Breakdown among British Asians. Conjugality, Legal Pluralism and New Kinship. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Qureshi, K., Charsley, K. and Shaw, A. (2014). "Marital Instability among British Pakistanis: Transnationality, Conjugalities and Islam." Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37 (2): 261-279.

Rep. of the Philippines vs. Manalo. (2018). G.R. No. 221029, Philippines.

Singh, K. (2008). "Child Custody Cases in the Context of International Migration." In: R. Palriwala and P. Uberoi (eds.), Marriage, Migration and Gender. New Delhi: Sage, pp. 326-347.

Singla, R. (2015). Intermarriage and Mixed Parenting, Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing. Crossover Love. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sportel, I. (2013). ""Because It's an Islamic Marriage" Conditions Upon Marriage and After Divorce in Transnational Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Egyptian Marriages." Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 3 (6): 1091-1110.

Sportel, I. (2014). 'Maybe I'm still his wife'. Transnational divorce in Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Egyptian families. Nijmegen: Wolf legal Publishers. PhD thesis.

Sportel, I. (2016). Divorce in Transnational Families: Marriage, Migration and Family Law. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Uunk, W. (2004). "The Economic Consequences of Divorce for Women in the European Union: The Impact of Welfare State Arrangements." European Journal of Population/Revue europeenne de demographie, 20 (3): 251-285.

Wallerstein, J. S. and Kelly, J. B. (2008). Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. New York: Basic books.

Yeoh, B.S.A., Leng, C.H., Dung, V.T.K. and Yi'en, C. (2013). "Between Two Families: The Social Meaning of Remittances for Vietnamese Marriage Migrants in Singapore." Global Networks, 13 (4): 441-458.




How to Cite

Fresnoza-Flot, A. (2019). Interacting Legal Norms and Cross-Border Divorce: Stories of Filipino Migrant Women in the Netherlands. Migration Letters, 16(4), 521–529.