SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – A 48-year-old woman became the first person in Chilean history to file for divorce Thursday, ushering in a new era for this heavily Roman Catholic country that had been the last in South America with no divorce law.

The justice minister called the new law a historic step, but Maria Victoria Torres said it was far more personal -“a window that opens to look at a new life with dignity, without fear.”

As the Santiago Court of Appeals opened its doors Thursday, Torres, who said her husband abused her, was first in line.

Torres, a beauty parlor assistant who has been married for 25 years, based her request for divorce on what she called “years of continued violence” by her husband, from whom she has been separated for months. The couple have two grown children.

“This law will allow me to recover my dignity and my freedom in a legitimate manner,” Torres told The Associated Press.

Others filed for divorce at courts around the country, although the avalanche of petitions many predicted did not occur.

Chile’s Congress passed the law six months ago, defying the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church, which waged a strong campaign against it that included television ads.

About 87 percent of Chileans consider themselves Catholic.

The country was among the last in the world without a divorce law, and the last in South America after Paraguay allowed divorce in the 1980s.

Other countries that still do not allow divorce include Malta and the Philippines.

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