Psychologist’s testimony not mandatory in all petitions on marriage nullity — SC

Published May 12, 2021, 2:42 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

The testimony of a psychologist or psychiatrist “is not mandatory in all cases” involving petitions for nullity of marriage due to psychological incapacity.

In a decision handed down last May 11, the Supreme Court (SC) said that “the totality of evidence must show clear and convincing evidence to cause the nullity of marriage.”

A copy of the decision which the SC’s public information office (PIO) said was written by Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen was not immediately available.

The ruling and other pertinent portions of the decision were spelled out in a statement issued by the PIO.

Article 36 of the Family Code provides that “a marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”

The PIO said:

“The Court pronounced that psychological incapacity is not a medical but a legal concept.

“It refers to a personal condition that prevents a spouse to comply with fundamental marital obligations only in relation to a specific partner that may exist at the time of the marriage but may have revealed through behavior subsequent to the ceremonies.

“It need not be a mental or personality disorder. It need not be a permanent and incurable condition. Therefore, the testimony of psychologist or psychiatrist is not mandatory in all cases. The totality of the evidence must show clear and convincing evidence to cause the declaration of nullity of marriage.”

The PIO said that several justices gave their concurring opinions. “The full opinion will be uploaded to the SC website once the PIO receives an official copy.”

In one of its previous decisions, the SC had declared:

“We ruled that the psychological incapacity must be more than just a difficulty, a refusal or a neglect in the performance of some marital obligations. A mere showing of irreconcilable differences and conflicting personalities does not equate to psychological incapacity.

“Proof of a natal or supervening disabling factor, an adverse integral element in petitioner’s personality structure that effectively incapacitated him from complying with his essential marital obligations had to be shown.”

In a 2015 decision written by then Associate Justice and now retired Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the SC relaxed the “strict and literal” interpretation of a provision in the Family Code that pertains to the issue of psychological incapacity as a ground of nullifying a marriage.

The SC, in that decision, admitted it had to set some guidelines for the interpretation and application of Article 36 of the Family Code that “have turned out to be rigid, such that their application to every instance practically condemned the petitions for declaration of nullity to the fate of certain rejection.”

Among other things, the SC in 2015 said that the burden of proof too show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff; the root cause of psychological incapacity must be medically or clinically identified; the incapacity must be proven to be existing at the time of the marriage; such incapacity must be shown to be incurable; such incapacity must be grave enough to bring about disability of the party to fulfill essential obligations of marriage.

Thus, the SC said, “every court should approach the issue of nullity ‘not on the basis of a priori assumptions, predilections or generalizations, but according to its own fact’ in recognition of the verity that no case would be on ‘all fours’ with the next one in the field of psychological incapacity as a ground for the nullity of marriage; hence, every ‘trial judge must take pains in examining the factual milieu and the appellate court must, as much as possible, avoid substituting its own judgment for that of the trial court.”

In 2006, the SC said that consistent lying and paranoid jealousy could be grounds for annulment of marriage due to psychological incapacity.

“Indeed, a person unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality would similarly be unable to comprehend the legal nature of the marital bond, much less its psychic meaning, and the corresponding obligations attached to marriage, including parenting, the SC said in a decision written by then Associate Justice Dante O. Tinga.

Date obtained from the Office of the Court Administrator showed that there have been 12,605 pending cases seeking the nullity or annulment of marriage as of Feb. 15, 2021.

The same data showed that 4,954 cases seeking dissolution of marriage have been resolved by various courts including by the Shariah Circuit Courts (SHCC).