Published 27 October 2023, The Daily Tribune

Married before the effectivity of the Family Code and fear you cannot nullify your marriage based on the grounds provided therein? 

Fret not, the Supreme Court has reiterated in a recent case that the Family Code, which took effect on 03 August 1988, shall be given retroactive effect unless vested or acquired rights under relevant laws will be prejudiced or impaired. 

According to Arthur Candelario v. Marlene Candelario and Office of the Solicitor General (G.R. No. 222068, 25 July 2023), psychological incapacity as a ground to nullify marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code can be applied to the marriage contracted on 11 June 1984 by the parties in this case. 

Article 256 of the Family Code explicitly provides that the law, including its provision on psychological incapacity, shall have retroactive effect. As such, the ruling of the lower court that the marriage cannot be nullified under Article 36 of the Family Code as the law only became effective after the parties’ marriage was set aside. 

The Supreme Court also stressed that Republic Act No. 8533 has amended Article 39 of the Family Code, which previously distinguished between marriages solemnized before and after its effectivity. Art. 39 now provides that the action or defense for the declaration of the nullity of marriage shall not prescribe, without distinction, whether the marriage was solemnized before or after the effectivity of the Family Code. 

A plain reading of the law even shows that nowhere in Art. 36 is it stated that the same may not be applied to marriages celebrated prior to the effectivity of the Family Code. It is basic in statutory construction that where the law is not ambiguous, the Court may not introduce exceptions or conditions where none is provided. 

Likewise, deliberations of the Family Code Revision Committee show that the same issue was considered, and the retroactive application of Art. 36 was voted upon. 

Jurisprudence is replete with the same pronouncements, such as Chi Ming Tsoi v. Court of Appeals (1997), Republic v. Molina (1997), Republic v. Enclean (2013), and Republic v. De Gracia (2014). 

The Court cited the Comment of the Office of the Solicitor General in this case — that any ruling to the contrary discriminates against married couples for no reason other than having the misfortune of getting married before the enactment of the Family Code. 

All persons can be afflicted with a psychological disorder resulting in incapacity to perform marital obligations. As such, the issue must not focus on when the parties invoking the nullification contracted the marriage, but on whether the requirements of psychological incapacity under the law are present. 

In this case, while the Court agreed that Art. 36 may be applied, it negated the finding that the husband was psychologically incapacitated to comply with his essential obligations in marriage.

Following the same, what is indeed essential in these cases is proving the existence of psychological incapacity, in which gravity, incurability, and juridical antecedence must be established.

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