Supreme Court makes it easier to annul marriages

Published by rudy Date posted on February 23, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – A couple was freed from 13 years of conflict after the Supreme Court (SC) relaxed the guidelines for annulling marriages and declared their union void.

In granting Edward Kenneth Ngo Te’s petition to annul his marriage to Rowena Ong Gutierrez, the high court considered the psychiatric evaluation on the spouses.

Te was diagnosed to be suffering from “dependent personality disorder” while Gutierrez had “antisocial personality disorder.”

They were married on Oct. 23, 1996 and the SC noted the couple were “afflicted with grave, sever and incurable psychological incapacity,” as the SC stated in its ruling.

The SC said “psychological incapacity” as viewed under current jurisprudence is “totally inconsistent” with the way the concept was formulated under the Family Code.

Annulment of marriages, on the other hand, should not be limited to disorders as specified by the SC.

The SC had set the guidelines for courts to declare the nullity of marriages in the landmark case of Republic of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals and Molina.

“Far from what was intended by the Court, Molina has become a straitjacket, forcing all sizes to fit and be bound by it. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Court, in conveniently applying Molina, has allowed diagnosed sociopaths, schizophrenics, nymphomaniacs, narcissists and the like, to continuously debase and pervert the sanctity of marriage,” the SC stated in the decision.

The SC said that in deciding cases of annulment of marriages subsequent to Molina, courts have applied the standards set in that case without regard to the Family Code’s clear intention that each case must be treated differently.

“Courts should interpret (Article 36 of the Family Code) on a case-to-case basis, guided by findings of experts and researches in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of Church Tribunals,” read the decision.

In the Te ruling, the SC adopted the separate opinion by the late Justice Teodoro Padilla in the Molina case for the judge to determine “psychological incapacity” in each case of annulment based on the facts at hand.

“The Court of Appeals must also avoid substituting its own judgment for that of the trial court,” read the decision, quoting the Padilla opinion.

The SC said the Molina case reflected the deluge of petitions for annulment of marriages and the Office of the Solicitor General’s description of Article 36 of the Family Code as the “most liberal divorce procedure in the world.”

“The intended consequence of Molina, however, has taken its toll on people who have to live with deviant behavior, moral insanity and sociopathic personality anomaly, which, like termites, consume little by little the very foundations of their families, our basic social institution,” read the decision.

In the Molina case, the SC made it hard for couples to have their marriages judicially declared void based on “psychological incapacity” as provided in Article 36 of the Family Code.

In declaring the Te marriage void, the SC has ruled that nullity of marriages based on “psychological incapacity” of either party should be handled on a “case-to-case basis,” not bound by the strict grounds specified in the Molina case.

However, the SC said it has not abandoned the Molina case.

“We simply declare that… there is a need to emphasize other perspectives as well which should govern the disposition of petitions for declaration of nullity under Article 36,” read the decision.

In Molina, the SC ruled that the burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the petitioner.

Any doubt should be resolved in favor of the existence and continuation of the marriage and against its dissolution and nullity, the SC added.

In Molina, the SC set out the following as the root cause of “psychological incapacity.”

Among them are grounds that are medically and clinically established, alleged in the complaint, and sufficiently proven by experts.

The decision must clearly state the grounds and the incapacity must be proven to have existed at the time of the marriage.

The SC said there must be evidence to show that the illness existed when the parties got married and the incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable.

“Such incurability may be absolute or even relative only in regard to the other spouse, not necessarily absolute against everyone of the same sex,” the SC said.

The SC stated the illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage.

Mild character peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts cannot be accepted as root causes, the SC said.

“The illness must be shown as downright incapacity or inability, not refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will,” the high court added.

Other root cause for incapacity must include:

• The essential marital obligations must be embraced by Article 68 up to 71 of the Family Code as regards the husband and wife, as well as Articles 220, 221 and 225 of the Family Code in regard to parents and their children;

• The non-compliance of these marital duties must be stated in the petition, proven by evidence and included in the decision;

• The interpretations of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church of the Philippines, while not controlling, should be given great weight by the courts;

• The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney and the Solicitor General to appear as Counsel for the State;

• No decision should be handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification, which will be quoted in the decision, briefly stating his reasons for his agreement or opposition to the petition;

• The Solicitor General along with the prosecuting attorney shall submit the certification within 15 days from the date the case is deemed submitted for resolution by the court.- Philippine Star

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