Published 22 November 2019, The Daily Tribune

There are marriages that are invalid from the outset or void ab initio, typically where one of the essential requisites of marriage is lacking or where a party suffers from psychological incapacity.

The following marriages are void or totally invalid from the start, where: one of the parties is less than 18 years old; the solemnizing officer lacks authority; there is no marriage license unless there is an affidavit that the parties had been cohabiting as husband and wife for the past five years; bigamous or polygamous marriages; there is a mistake as to the identity of another; or after rendition of a judgment granting the annulment of a voidable marriage but the judgment was not recorded in the appropriate civil registry (Article 35, Family Code).

For obvious public policy reasons, incestuous marriages including collateral blood relatives whether legitimate or illegitimate up to the fourth civil degree are void. In the same vein, stepparents with respect to their stepchildren, adopting parent and the adopted child and/or their surviving spouses, an adopted child and a legitimate child of the adopter, and adopted children of the same adopter are all void from the beginning.

Marriage is similarly void between parties where one, with the intention to marry the other, killed that other person’s spouse, or his or her own spouse (Article 40, Family Code).

But the most common type of void marriage refers to those where one or both parties suffer from psychological incapacity as envisaged under Article 36 of the Family Code. The latter 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 be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.

In such instance, a petition for declaration of nullity of marriage may be filed.

In Santos vs Court of Appeals (310 Phil. 22 (1995), the Supreme Court (SC), clarified that psychological incapacity should refer to no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly incapable of discerning and discharging basic obligations and covenants in marriage. These obligations are so expressed by the Family Code, including the spouses’ mutual obligation to live together, observe love, respect and fidelity and render help and support. Thus, the law’s intendment is to limit “psychological incapacity” to the most serious cases of personality, disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage.

The SC has likewise clarified that other grounds, if existing at the inception of marriage, like the state of a party being of unsound mind or concealment of drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, homosexuality or lesbianism, merely renders the marriage contract voidable pursuant to Article 46, Family Code. If these had occurred only during the marriage, they become mere grounds for legal separation under Article 55 of the Family Code.

The three requisites to be proven for a petition for nullity of marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code are: the psychological condition must exist at the time the marriage is celebrated; it must be incurable; and it must be grave.

Further, the following serves as guidelines in applying Article 36 of the Family Code:

• The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff and any doubt is resolved in favor of the validity of the marriage.
• The root cause of the psychological incapacity must be medically or clinically identified, alleged in the complaint, sufficiently proven by experts and clearly explained in the decision.
• The incapacity must be proven to be existing at “the time of the celebration” of the marriage.
• Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable.
• Such illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage.
• The essential marital obligations must be those embraced by Articles 68 up to 71 of the Family Code as regards the husband and wife as well as Articles 220, 221 and 225 of the same Code in regard to parents and their children.
• Interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by our courts (Republic vs Molina, GR 108763 13 February 1997).

It bears emphasis that mere difficulty, refusal, or neglect in the performance of marital obligations, or even bad faith or ill will on the part of the erring spouse is not psychological incapacity.

At the end of the day, in interpreting Article 36 of the Family Code, when evidence is lacking to prove the foregoing requisites, the court would likely deny the petition on the underlying premise that marriage must be protected from dissolution at the whim of the parties.

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