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Between the time the law went into effect at the beginning of September 1981, and the end of 1984, only slightly more than 69,000 couples had availed themselves of the option of ending their marriages, and the number declined in both 19.
There were already more divorced people than this in Spain in 1981 before the law took effect.
During the Franco years, marriages had to be canonical (that is, performed under Roman Catholic law and regulations) if even one of the partners was Catholic, which meant effectively that all marriages in Spain had to be sanctioned by the church.
Since the church prohibited divorce, a marriage could be dissolved only through the arduous procedure of annulment, which was available only after a lengthy series of administrative steps and was thus accessible only to the relatively wealthy.
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The law also provided for less stringent definitions of such crimes as adultery and desertion for husbands than it did for wives.
Significant reforms of this system were begun shortly before Franco's death, and they have continued at a rapid pace since then.
As such, during the past decades the position of women in Spanish society has greatly improved.
During the Franco era, Spanish social and legal values embraced a code of morality that established stringent standards of sexual conduct for women (but not for men); restricted the opportunities for professional careers for women, but honored their role as wives, and (most importantly) mothers; and prohibited divorce, contraception, and abortion, but permitted prostitution.
By 1984 this figure had increased to 33 percent, a level not significantly different from Italy or the Netherlands.