Monday, February 20, 2012

The Right of Illegitimate Child - An Overview of the Latest Constitutional Court Decision

A couple of days ago, the Constitutional Court decided that Article 43(1) of Law No. 1/1974 on Marriage is deemed conditionally unconstitutional. You may read the complete decision here. This is indeed an interesting development. For many years, most legal scholars agree that a child born outside a legitimate marriage will only have legal relationship with his/her mother and not with the father. In other words, the Constitutional Court decision revolutionizes the entire concept of illegitimate child. The big question is, is it a good thing?

I must say that I am disappointed that the decision is poorly reasoned. From a total of 45 pages, the majority opinion only consists of 3.5 pages. It is true that you can't assess the quality of a legal opinion merely from its length, but still, I think that the majority should further elaborate their thoughts before making such a revolution, especially when they claim that: (i) marriage registration is only an administrative requirement of marriage instead of a validity requirement, and (ii) that sexual intercourse that produces child imposes a legal obligation to the parties involved.

The discussion will be divided into 3 sections. First, we will discuss the claim made by the majority opinion that marriage registration is only an administrative requirement. Second, we will discuss whether Constitutional Court has the power to change the concept of father's obligation toward illegitimate child. Third, we will discuss the economic analysis of this major change and how it will affect the incentives of Indonesian people.

A. Marriage Registration is not and should not be an Administrative Requirement 

I do not understand how the Constitutional Court can say that registration of marriage should only be an administrative requirement when in fact Religious Court usually, if not all the time, does not recognize a marriage which has not been properly registered even though such marriage has satisfied the so called "religious" requirements. While this is only a reasoning and is not a part of the decision itself, it still gives an ammunition to the proponents of unregistered marriage who believe that they can validly marry without having to register the marriage, seriously jeopardizing the rights of the parents (either the mother and/or the father) and the children in case they don't have any supporting evidence in the court.

There is a good reason why we want marriage to be registered and as far as I can see from the majority opinion, they too reach the same understanding, i.e. that it will be more efficient for court and administrative process if the marriage status of citizens is clear. Maybe the majority think that since an illegitimate child will have legal relationship with his/her father after this case, it will not be harmful to say that marriage registration is not a requirement for marriage validity. If this is true, then the majority has made a big mistake.

Under the rational choice theory, we could safely assume that rational people who choose the path of marriage would love to have their marriage properly validated. This means that they will do all the necessary requirements to ensure that there is nothing wrong the legal status of their marriage, including their marriage registration. And it is also rare to find a modern day case where these rational people fail to register their marriage properly only because they don't know about such requirement.

This indicates that marriage registration can be considered as an effective way to screen those who want to have a valid marriage and those who want to find a loop hole within their marriage. As such, we can infer that unless there is a strong evidence of good faith negligence, people who do not register their marriage must have a bad faith intention. After all, it would be highly questionable if a couple would let go all of their marriage benefits by fail to register their marriage, unless they have other goals to pursue.  

Right now, there are some ambiguities in the law on the legal status of marriage registration. While legal ambiguities are usually bad, there are situations where ambiguities are helpful, such as in this case. We can screen the bad faith couple and since there is a risk that the marriage is invalid, parties will have the correct incentives to make their own decision for the marriage. However, by saying that marriage registration is only an administrative requirement, we destroy the protection given to the good faith couple and also the effectiveness of the screening mechanism.

Remember, marriage cases can be complicated and it does not have to include child issues. It could be that a male want to avoid responsibility, it could also be the husband want to have another wife, it could be that a woman want to steal another woman's husband, etc. In any case, priority of protection should always be given to those who have a valid marriage. First, the costs to assess the validity would be cheaper. Second, it also gives incentives to good faith spouse to question his/her spouse on why they don't register the marriage. That would not happen if we say that registration is only an administrative thing, meaning that the marriage would still be valid even without any registration. How could an average person (without any legal knowledge) effectively screen his/her spouse if he/she can convince her that registration does not affect their marriage?

If Constitutional Court wants to talk about the right of illegitimate child, they should focus on the relevant article, instead giving a poorly reasoned analysis like this. It does not help the already problematic marriage case and it will reduce the costs of being unfaithful.

B. Constitutional Court Authority for Making Such Decision  

Can we say that the Constitutional Court breached its authority by saying that an illegitimate child also has a legal relationship with his/her father? Not necessarily. Legally speaking, declaring that the provision of Article 43(1) of Law No. 1/1974 which says that an illegitimate child only has a relationship with his/her mother is unconstitutional can only mean one thing, that an illegitimate child should also have a legal relationship with his/her father. This is an a contrario method of interpretation and is acceptable among legal scholars.

The fact that the Constitutional Court must add the requirements for having a scientific test in order to prove the blood lineage is something that we can't avoid. If the Constitutional Court does not say anything about such problem, it would be problematic for district and religious courts in determining the status of their child since currently there are no clear standards for such proceeding. As such, I believe that the decision, poorly reasoned as it may be, did not breach the scope of Constitutional Court's authority.  

C. The Economic Effect of the Decision

The economic effect of this decision would be interesting. On the one hand, people who want to avoid marriage responsibility by refusing to register the marriage will have less incentives to produce child, while those who want to steal other people spouses will try their best to produce an illegitimate child. For the illegitimate children, this might be a good decision, at least if they are unwanted, the parents will have less incentives to give birth to them. However, I still have some concerns, especially with the Court's reasoning on marriage registration and also the right of legitimate child.

To the extent the couple can successfully prevent the birth of a child in unregistered marriages, I doubt that we can reduce the rate of unregistered marriage if we say that it is only an administrative requirement. And this will be bad for people who don't know how to protect their right under a valid marriage. It seems the Constitutional Court forgot that a child is only one actor within a marriage and that we should also consider the right of the husband and wife.

Furthermore, granting legal relationship to illegitimate children would not be a problem to the extent it is applied to a father who only have one spouse. It would be problematic if the illegitimate child was produced with his mistress, since it means that the grant of such relationship is made on the expenses of the person's wife and legitimate child. This is something that should also be considered. It might be that this decision will give more incentives to wives to increase their supervision on their husbands, ensuring that they will not cheat outside and thus increases the costs of their marriage. But it could also be used by a husband to subdue his wife to follow his intention of having another marriage since no matter what, once he produces an illegitimate child, such child will still have legal relationship with him, and the legitimate wife and child will not be able to do anything.

From these scenarios, we can see that the problem is not that simple. Personally, I believe that it would be more efficient if the Court clearly says that the marriage without any registration is invalid, after all, all of these problems would not happen if not for the registration issue. This would give better clarity and give incentives to people to avoid unregistered marriage so that guys cannot trick women into that kind of marriage and vice versa. Nevertheless, the decision has been made and we will need to abide by it. I could only hope that it will not produce the wrong incentives to Indonesian couples.

3 comments:

Anonymous,  Wednesday, August 01, 2012 4:27:00 AM  

I found your views very insightful however feel there is a particular scenario no media has covered to date. Your section 3 does not discuss the result of a more disturbing trend in Indonesia which I have encountered which pertains directly to foreigners, particularly men. I am aware of several men who have been lied to about the use of contraceptives or had them sabotaged by their partner in an attempt to get pregnant. This is for a wide range of reasons from simple emotional/financial blackmail to the absurd idea that a half "bule" baby will be better in some way. With this change in the law it will become more attractive for women of this nature to force a foreigner into paying for their child (which they have concieved my deceit) by having the legal status of father forced apon them. Up to 18 years of age an illegitimate child is now entitled to financial support under the new ruling (my understanding). This immediately leads to situations where the temptresses lifestyle is supplemented through association with a child. "The baby needs a Mercedes to go to school" is a simple rational to extort this relationship through legal means and could be continous until the child in question is 18 or even later, when married. Any other form of support can be justified by a good lawyer (or cheap judge as the joke goes) in a court e.g. it is in the childs interest to enjoy and discover the world hence this claim for a trip to disneyland is relevant.

This also has serious implications for the foreigners estate with the illegitimate child gaining rights in the fathers home nation.

I think the law needs to be annexed to apply extra conditions where a foreigner is involved and that it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that no intent was evident to entrap the other party (this is to be determined by a court and jury). This could also apply to Indonesian men abroad who have international claims forwarding with similar circumstances too.

I am interested in your thoughts on this particular issue.

Pramudya A. Oktavinanda Thursday, August 16, 2012 5:26:00 PM  

Thanks for the comment. Creating a specific law for foreigners might not be a good option as that could be deemed as a discrimination to other local citizens (even when the same condition is applied to Indonesian men outside Indonesia)

Regarding the blackmail, all I can say is that it should be considered as an inherent risk when you are engaging in a sexual relationship outside valid marriage.

I don't think that the Government really think about this issue, but the costs of establishing a separate system just to prove that the foreigner guy is being tricked to have sex with the girl would be very high.

In other words, since now you can be held responsible for the kids, foreigners will have higher incentives to avoid having relationship with the girls. Thus, in a way, the market for fraudulent girls will also be affected and we can see less of these cases in the future.

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