Divorcing foreign spouse

Published 22 May 2023, The Daily Tribune

There is no absolute divorce in the Philippines, that much is well understood. This prohibition against the dissolution and severance of marriage bonds through a divorce is deeply rooted in our law’s constitutional mandate to protect the inviolability of marriage as a social institution.

Such a strict mandate does, however, admit exceptions. Divorces between Filipino and foreign spouses are nevertheless validly recognized in our jurisdiction, provided they were validly obtained under the national law of the respective foreign spouses.

In the recent case of the Republic of the Philippines v. Helen Bayog-Saito (G.R. No. 247297, 17 August 2022) penned recently by Justice Henri Inting, spouses respondent Helen, Filipino; and Toru, a Japanese, amicably divorced after the eventual deterioration of their marriage. Toru presented Helen with the divorce notification papers, which Helen signed without protest.

These papers were thereafter duly submitted to and accepted by the Mayor of Minamiku, Yokohama City, and thereafter recorded in Toru’s family registry. Helen, later seeking to legally remarry, filed the necessary petition for judicial recognition of the foreign divorce decree in the Philippines and sought the declaration of severance of the marital bond between her and Toru.

The petition for judicial recognition was initially granted by the Regional Trial Court. The Republic, through the Office of the Solicitor General, appealed before the Court of Appeals. The OSG argued that under Paragraph 2, Article 26 of the Family Code, Helen, being a Filipino citizen, had no legal capacity to obtain a foreign divorce decree jointly with her husband. It insisted that only her husband Toru, as a Japanese national, was capacitated to obtain the divorce.

The CA denied the appeal. Thus, the OSG sought recourse before the Supreme Court.

In resolving the issue of whether a Filipino national can validly obtain a divorce against a foreign spouse, the Supreme Court ruled against the Republic and cited the recent landmark cases of the Republic of the Philippines v. Manalo and Galapon v. Republic of the Philippines.

In Manalo, the Court clarified that paragraph 2, Section 26 of the Family Code only requires that the divorce be validly obtained abroad and that the law did not explicitly restrict this requirement solely to the foreign spouse. Otherwise stated, the Filipino spouse is also capacitated to obtain a divorce from the foreign spouse, provided that the same was done duly and validly under the national law of the foreign spouse. The Court went on to reiterate that to countenance another interpretation of paragraph 2, Article 16 would result in an absurd situation where a Filipino spouse essentially remains legally married and bound to their foreign spouse while the latter is free to remarry.

The Court also cited the case of Galapon, which further clarified that the rule as decided in Manalo applies even in “mixed marriages” where the divorce decree is: (1) obtained solely by the foreign spouse; (2) obtained solely by the Filipino spouse; or (3) obtained jointly by both the Filipino and the foreign spouse together. The case of Helen and Toru fell squarely into the third category.

Before a Filipino spouse can validly remarry following a divorce from a foreign spouse, he or she must first prove the divorce as a fact and demonstrate its conformity to the national law of the foreign spouse by submitting a copy of the foreign judgment and having it admitted into evidence under Rule 132 of the Revised Rules of Court.

Thus, it was decided that the marriage between respondent Helen and Toru had been validly dissolved under Japanese law and the divorce decree jointly obtained by both spouses may be recognized in our jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court basically eradicated the absurd situation where a Filipino spouse essentially remains legally married and bound to their foreign spouse while the latter is free to remarry, notwithstanding the validity of a foreign divorce decree obtained by the spouses jointly.

For more of Dean Nilo Divina’s legal tidbits, please visit www.divinalaw.com. For comments and questions, please send an email to cabdo@divinalaw.com.