Published 19 November 2018, The Daily Tribune

Oftentimes, couples that are mired in failed marriages try to find ways to get out of their doomed marital relationships. However, to their disappointment, they quickly realize that there aren’t too many easy options available for them in order to achieve such end. The reason is obvious: marriage is sacrosanct, and no less than the Constitution protects its sanctity. Therefore, the law has put in enough safeguards to ensure that marriage remains inviolate, no matter how imperfect it may be. That is not to say, however, that there are no legal ( and moral ) remedies available to undo the marriage. For instance, apart from the usual grounds (i.e. lack of essential and/or formal requisites), a marriage may legally be declared void and consequently dissolved on the basis of psychological incapacity.

Psychological incapacity, as a ground for the declaration of nullity of marriage, is governed by Article 36 of the Family Code. The provision states 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 an innumerable number of cases decided by the Supreme Court relating to this provision, it has been consistently ruled that an individual’s psychological incapacity is confined to the most serious cases of personality disorders, clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. It contemplates downright incapacity or incompetence to take cognizance of and to assume the basic marital obligations— not merely the refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will, on the part of the errant spouse.

In the doctrinal case of Republic vs Molina (268 SCRA 198), the High Court has laid down definitive guidelines in the interpretation of Article 36. These are: (1) The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff-spouse; (2) 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 (3) The incapacity must be proven to be existing at the time of the celebration of the marriage; (4) Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable; (5) The illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage; (6) 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; (7) Interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church of the Philippines, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by courts; and, (8) The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the State. No decision shall be handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification briefly stating therein his reasons for his agreement or opposition, as the case may be, to the petition.

Nevertheless, since the issuance of these guidelines in 1997, there had been at least three substantial modifications or clarifications made, which had significantly affected cases involving declaration of nullity of marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity. First, in 2003, the Supreme Court promulgated A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, which removed the mandatory nature of an OSG certification. Thus, while the appearance of the prosecuting attorney as counsel remained a requirement; the Molina guideline on the matter of certification has been dispensed with (Padilla-Rumbaua vs. Rumbaua, 596 SCRA 157, 2009). Second, recent decisions of the Supreme Court instruct that the evidence of psychological malady need not necessarily come from the afflicted spouse, but can come from the aggrieved spouse himself/herself or from persons intimately related to the spouses, i.e., relatives and close friends, who could clearly testify on the allegedly incapacitated spouse’s condition at or about the time of marriage. In other words, even the lack of personal examination and interview of the incapacitated spouse will not per se invalidate the findings of the experts. Third, notwithstanding the Molina guidelines, an expert opinion is not absolutely necessary and may be dispensed with, if the totality of the evidence shows that psychological incapacity exists, and its gravity, juridical antecedence, and incurability can be duly established (Del Rosario vs. Del Rosario, 818 SCRA 83, 2017). In fact, the Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages provides that “the complete facts should allege the physical manifestations, if nay, as are indicative of psychological incapacity at the time of the celebration of the marriage but expert opinion need not be alleged.”

As before, it is still quite a hurdle to prove in court the elements of psychological incapacity. To be sure, statistics show that most nullity cases based on this ground have been denied. This is only because the State ( and the Church ) presume that the marriage is valid and the love that was once permeated the marital relationship  can be reignited if all efforts are put into it. And as a consequence, the mindset is to preserve, not to destroy the marital union. But, at least in the cases where the legal (and moral ) grounds exist to dissolve the marital union, spouses can somehow be comforted in the thought that the above jurisprudential clarifications alleviate the difficulty that they may face once their cases go to court.

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