Published 1 November 2019, The Daily Tribune

The community property is jointly administered and enjoyed by the spouses. In case of disagreement, the husband’s decision shall prevail, but the wife may file a case in court within five years from the date of the contract implementing the husband’s decision.

While marriage vows often state that only death shall separate spouses, their property relations can be terminated in many other ways. It terminates when there is a decree of legal separation; when the marriage is annulled or declared void; in case of judicial separation of property during the marriage; or, inevitably, upon the death of either spouse.

Separation in fact, or separation that is not recognized by law between the spouses, does not affect the community of property. But the Family Code states under Article 100 (1) that the spouse who leaves the conjugal home or refuses to live therein, without just cause, shall not have the right to be supported. When the consent of one spouse to any transaction of the other is required by law, judicial authorization can instead be secured through a court case.

On the other hand, if a spouse without just cause abandons the other or fails to comply with his or her obligations to the family, the aggrieved spouse may ask the court to name him/her as custodian and caretaker of the community property, to separate the properties, or for authority to be the sole administrator of the absolute community. A spouse is deemed to have abandoned the other when her or she has left the conjugal dwelling without intention of returning. If the other spouse left the conjugal dwelling for a period of three months or has failed within the same period to give any information on his/her whereabouts, the court shall presume that he/she has no intention of returning.

In case the community property is dissolved upon the annulment of marriage, do the Philippine courts have jurisdiction over all the properties comprising the spouses’ community of property regime, even properties located abroad? The Supreme Court had occasion to discuss this in the case of Noveras vs Noveras (GR 188289, 20 August 2014).

In that case, the spouses were Filipinos who contracted marriage in the Philippines. They resided in California, United States of America (USA) where they eventually acquired American citizenship. During the marriage, they acquired real properties in the Philippines and in the USA, and various bank deposits and jewelry found in the USA. After obtaining a divorce decree in the USA, the California court granted to the innocent spouse all the couple’s properties in the USA.

Respondent filed a petition for Judicial Separation of Conjugal Property before the RTC of Baler, Aurora for the properties located in the Philippines, on the ground that petitioner has abandoned respondent, and is unable to comply with his or her obligations to the family and the spouses have been separated in fact for at least one year and reconciliation is highly improbable.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, it ruled that while the authenticity of the divorce decree and evidence on pertinent California law on divorce were not presented, the innocent spouse had anchored the filing of the instant petition for judicial separation of property on abandonment under the Family Code. Hence, with the grant of the judicial separation of the absolute community, the absolute community is dissolved. Nonetheless, the RTC cannot include in its separation of properties the spouses’ California properties. Article 16 of the Civil Code clearly states that real property as well as personal property is subject to the law of the country where it is situated. Thus, liquidation shall only be limited to the Philippine properties.

This being said, property regime between spouses is always something to think about before entering into marriage; hence it has been said that it is the unromantic part of “’til death do us part.”

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