Law sets clear grounds for marriage nullity; no room for interpretation – Supreme Court

Published October 14, 2021, 2:06 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

The Family Code states that “marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life.”

The law also states that marriage “is the foundation of the family and an inviolable social institution whose nature, consequences, and incidents are governed by law and not subject to stipulation….”

In a decision made public last Oct. 4, the Supreme Court (SC) stressed that the law clearly specified the grounds for annulment of marriage “and when the law is clear and free from any doubt or ambiguity, there is no room for construction or interpretation.”

The decision, written by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, granted the petition of the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), against the trial court’s 2017 ruling that granted the marriage nullity filed by a husband. The 2017 ruling was, in effect, affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2018, albeit on technicality.

(Manila Bulletin decided to use fictitious names for those involved in the case to protect them, most particularly their children.)

Case records showed that Jan, the husband, and Ann, the wife, were sweethearts during their college days. In 2000, they parted ways when Jan heard that Ann starting dating a man she met hear her place of work. They did not communicate with each other for months.

In March 2001, Ann texted Jan and they agreed to meet. When Jan confronted Ann on “dating someone else,” she denied and assured that “no one touched her.” They reconciled and slept together.

But just a month after their reconciliation, Jan learned in April 2001 that Ann was pregnant. While Jan doubted the paternity of the child, Ann assured that he was the only person she had sexual intercourse with.

In December 2001, Ann gave birth to a baby girl and named her Jean. Jan and Ann started living together. On Aug. 14, 2004, they got married. Ann gave birth to a second child named Aris.

In many instances during their quarrels, the issue on Jean’ paternity would be discussed and the issue on the paternity became serious during a family party in 2010.

Jan decided to take a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) parentage examination (DNA test). In November 2010 the test result showed that there was a 0.0 percent probability that Jan was the father of Jean.

On Jan. 12, 2011, Jan received a text message from Ann stating that she had no intention of deceiving him as she confessed that she never thought that her one-time “sin” when she was drunk would “bear fruit.”

On March 15, 2011, Jan filed before the trial court a petition for annulment of marriage. Ann answered the petition and pleaded for support.

In its decision dated Nov. 16, 2017, the trial court granted the annulment of marriage with a ruling that Ann fraudulently concealed “… the very painful truth that before her marriage, she slept with another man and that it resulted in her pregnancy by said man.”

Thus, the trial court said the fraudulent concealment warranted the annulment under Article 45(3) in relation to Article 46(2) of the Family Code as Jan would probably not have pursued the marriage had Ann informed him that he was not the father of Jean.

The OSG elevated the case to the CA which dismissed the petition on Feb. 16, 2019 on technicality. On Sept. 20, 2019, the CA denied OSG’s motion for reconsideration prompting the latter to elevate the case to the SC.

The OSG told the SC that the annulment of marriage between Jan and Ann was not in accord with law and jurisprudence since the Family Code expressly provides that a marriage may be annulled on the basis of fraud through concealment only if “… at the time of the marriage, the wife was pregnant and she concealed the fact that such pregnancy was by a man other than her husband.”

It pointed out that the first child was already almost three years old when Jan and Ann got married on Aug. 4, 2004, and evidently, Ann was not pregnant at the time of her marriage and thus, Article 46(2) cannot apply.

Also, the OSG said Ann’s messages to Jan clearly stated that she had no intention to deceive Jan, and that while Ann may have misrepresented the state of her chastity, it cannot be discounted that she honestly believed that Jean was sired by Jan.

The SC said: “The Court agrees” with the OSG.

It said that provisions in Article 86(3) of the Civil Code and Article 46(2) of the Family Code are the same on what constitutes fraud as ground for the annulment of marriage: “Concealment by the wife of the fact that at the time of the marriage, she was pregnant by a man other than her husband.”

Thus, the SC said, “it is evident that to constitute fraud that warrants annulment under Article 46(2), the wife must have been pregnant by a man other than her husband at the time of the marriage, and the wife must have fraudulently concealed the same.”

“In this regard, the OSG correctly argues that the concealed pregnancy, which vitiates consent, must have existed at the time of the marriage,” it said.

The SC said:

“In the instant case, the facts readily reveal that (Jean) was already almost three years old when (Jan) and (Ann) got married on Aug. 4, 2004.

“As (Ann) was not pregnant at the time of the marriage, any purported fraud she may have committed to induce (Jan) to marry her cannot be considered the fraudulent concealment contemplated under Article 46(2).

“Indeed, the Court has held that not all fraudulent acts can be invoked to annul a marriage. The circumstances of fraud under Article 45(3) are exclusive and restrictive.”

Article 45(3) of the Family Code states that “the consent of either party was obtained by fraud, unless such party afterwards, with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife.”

The SC also said:

“As (Ann’s) purported fraud does not squarely fall under Article 46(2), the same cannot serve as a ground for annulment. It is of no moment that the trial court found that (Jan) would probably not have married (Ann) had he known that he was not the father of (Jean).

“It is a threshold principle that ‘x x x when the law is clear and free from any doubt or ambiguity, there is no room for construction or interpretation. There is only room for application. As the statute is clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation x x x.’

“Not falling within the restrictive grounds provided under Article 46, the wisdom of whether (Ann’s) purported fraud should likewise be considered a ground for annulment is a policy question better left to the political branches of the government.

“The lawmaker’s intent being plain, the Court’s duty is to give effect to the same, whether it agrees with the rule or not.

“Even assuming that Article 46(2) was applicable, the Court finds that (Jan) failed to discharge his burden of proving that (Ann) acted with bad faith and fraudulent intent with clear and convincing evidence.

“As there was no bad faith on her part, she cannot be guilty of concealment.

“In view of the foregoing, the petition for annulment of marriage is hereby dismissed for lack of merit.

“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition for Review on Certiorari is GRANTED. The Feb. 26, 2019 and Sept. 20, 2019 Resolutions of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV. No. 06988 are hereby SET ASIDE. The petition for annulment of marriage is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit. SO ORDERED.”