SC on ‘love, marriage, parting’

Published September 7, 2021, 1:18 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

“Love is founded on a promise: to seek beyond ourselves in order to enable and ennoble the other to continue to become the best version of themselves.

“Being in love can be carried on the wings of poetry, announced publicly through each other’s gazes. It is made real and felt with every act of unconditional care and comfort that the lover provides. Love can be beyond labels.

“Marriage is not compulsory when in love; neither does it create love. Nonetheless, it remains an institution designed to provide legal and public recognition that may be well deserved not only for the couple, but also for their families existing or yet to come.

“To be clear, our collective hope is that one who chooses marriage realizes that the other deserves more caring, more compassion, more kindness in the daily and banal grind of their relationship. It is in these same values of sacrifice and empathy that we will have the chance to evolve into a society that is more humane and, eventually, more just.

“Yet, we are not blind to the reality that a person may be truly psychologically incapable for the other from the beginning. Should there be grave need to part for the reasons we have stated, courts can lead the way to make parting less bitter, minimize animosity, and make lives more forward-looking for those most affected.

“Parting is already a sorrow. It need not be more than what it already is.”

These touching declarations from the SC were contained in the decision, written for the full court by Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen. A copy was posted in the SC website – sc.judiciary.gov.ph – last Sept. 6.

(Like what Manila Bulletin (MB) did when it came out with a story on the ruling last May 12, it again decided not to mention the names of the parties involved in the case which was promulgated last May 11. MB respects the privacy of persons involved in marriage nullity cases and in similar disputes involving family relations filed with the country’s family courts, particularly if minors are involved.)

In this case, the wife sought the nullity of her marriage due to psychological incapacity of her husband, who, the decision stated, was a drug addict. At the time of the filing of case, they have a minor child.

The wife’s business became bankrupt when the husband withdrew large amounts to support his drug addiction. He was always out of the house and got irritated and annoyed when asked on his whereabouts.

The husband left their home many times and could not be located when mother and child needed help.

The regional trial court nullified the marriage as void ab initio (from the start); granted custody of the child to the wife; and declared her sole owner of the piece of land with improvements. The piece of land was donated to the wife by her aunt before the marriage and improvements on it were done through the help of her father and a loan.

The husband elevated the case to the Court of Appeals (CA) which granted his petition. The CA reversed the trial court with a ruling that the psychiatric evaluation of the husband was “unscientific and unreliable” since he was diagnosed without interviewing him.

The CA also said that the physician who diagnosed the husband “was working on pure suppositions and second-hand information fed to her by one side.” Thus, the CA ruled that the marriage was “valid and subsisting.”

The wife appealed the CA ruling with the SC.

In its May 11 decision, the SC ruled that the testimony of a psychologist or psychiatrist “is not mandatory in all cases” involving petitions for nullity of marriage due to psychological incapacity.

The SC said “the totality of evidence must show clear and convincing evidence to cause the nullity of marriage.”

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.”

In reversing the CA’s decision, the SC said:

“This Court finds (the husband) psychologically incapacitated to comply with his essential marital obligations. The wife discharged the burden of proof required to nullify her marriage to him.

“Clear and convincing evidence of his psychological incapacity consisted mainly of testimony on his personality structure and how it was formed primarily through his childhood and adult experiences, well before he married her.

“In addition to her testimony, the physician recounted how he developed traits exhibiting chronic irresponsibility, impulsivity and lack of genuine remorse, lack of empathy, and sense of entitlement-behaviors manifesting his inherent psychological incapacity to comply with his essential marital obligations.

“Here, the totality of evidence presented by (the wife) clearly and convincingly proved that (the husband’s) drug abuse was of sufficient durability that antedates the marriage.

“Admittedly, part of marriage is accepting a person for who they are, including their addictions. However, in the husband’s case, his persistent failure to have himself rehabilitated, even bringing his child into a room where he did drugs, indicates a level of dysfunctionality that shows utter disregard of his obligations not only to his wife, but to his child.

“We agree with the trial court that the husband failed to render mutual help and support to his wife, failing to find gainful employment and even driving to bankruptcy the construction firm founded by the wife by siphoning its funds for his drug use. He failed to exercise his rights and duties as a parent to the child.

“To summarize, psychological incapacity consists of clear acts of dysfunctionality that show a lack of understanding and concomitant compliance with one’s essential marital obligations due to psychic causes.

“It is not a medical illness that has to be medically or clinically identified; hence, expert opinion is not required.

“As an explicit requirement of the law, the psychological incapacity must be shown to have been existing at the time of the celebration of the marriage, and is caused by a durable aspect of one’s personality structure, one that was formed before the parties married.

“Furthermore, it must be shown caused by a genuinely serious psychic cause. To prove psychological incapacity, a party must present clear and convincing evidence of its existence.

“With respect to properties acquired during their cohabitation, the rules on co-ownership under the Civil Code govern.

“Therefore, a property acquired during the parties’ cohabitation shall be presumed to have been acquired through the parties’ joint efforts. For purposes of Article 147, ‘joint efforts’ includes a party’s care and maintenance of the family and of the household.

“With this presumption, the parties are deemed to own the property in equal shares. However, if a piece of property was obtained through only one party’s effort, work, or industry, and there is proof that the other did not contribute through the care and maintenance of the family and of the household, the property acquired during the cohabitation shall be solely owned by the party who actually worked to acquire the property.

“In this case, there is proof that the … lot was not obtained by husband and wife’s joint efforts, work, or industry. Wife’s aunt donated the 315-square meter lot to the wife and her father….

“The husband has no share in this property because he did not care for and maintain the family and the household

“As the funds to construct the house were obtained solely through the wife and her father’s efforts, and the husband did not care for and maintain the household, he (the husband) has no share in the duplex.

“WHEREFORE, the Petition for Review on Certiorari is GRANTED. The Court of Appeals’ Feb. 25, 2010 Decision and April 6, 201] Resolution in CA-G.R. CV No. 90303 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The May 9, 2007 Decision of the Regional Trial Court… in Civil Cases 01-0228 and 03-0384 is REINSTATED. SO ORDERED.”

Data 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).

 
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