Annulment And Psychological Incapacity In The Philippines

Wedding ringsIn the Philippines, mention marital discord and Filipinos will think of annulment of marriage.  Speak of annulment and they will associate it with psychological incapacity.  These terms had become famous concepts owing to the publicized annulments of prominent Philippine personalities in the recent years.

The terms annulment and psychological incapacity have both been used inaccurately, especially by the ordinary Pinoy.  Some explanation on the terms will help Filipinos understand their significance in our legal system.

Firstly, Annulment has been used as a catch-all term for terminating marriages.  In truth, Annulment is a legal remedy different from Declaration of Nullity of Marriage.  Annulment is the proper remedy if the marriage is one that is voidable or valid until annulled.  A marriage is considered voidable if there is a defect in any of the essential requisites of marriage.  On the other hand, Declaration of Nullity is the right remedy to have a marriage pronounced as void ab initio.  A marriage is deemed void if any of the essential and formal requisites is lacking.

Secondly, Annulment and Declaration of Nullity of Marriage do not serve to terminate a marriage. Unlike divorce which has as its purpose the termination of a marriage, the purpose of Annulment and Declaration of Nullity  is to have a marriage declared null and void by reason of any absence or defect in requisites of marriage, as if no marriage took place.

Now we proceed to discuss psychological incapacity as a ground for the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage.

The term psychological incapacity has been loosely understood by most Filipinos as any metal instability or disturbance.  It is also mistakenly associated with indifferences between conflicting couples.  Under the Family Code of the Philippines, psychological incapacity is one of the grounds which can support a petition for the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage .As a ground for the declaration of nullity of marriage, the incapacity must be restricted to psychological incapacity in complying with the essential marital obligations of marriage.  These obligations include the duty to live together, to observe mutual love, respect and fidelity, as well as to render mutual help and support.

While Psychological incapacity does not have an exact definition or example under our system, Philippine laws have given courts the liberty to interpret incapacity on a case-to-case basis.  However, in various decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, it characterized psychological incapacity as one that which refers to “a mental, not physical, incapacity that causes a party to be truly incognitive of the basic marital covenants that must be assumed and discharged by parties to a marriage.”  Further, the incapacity must involve “a senseless, protracted and constant refusal to comply with the essential marital obligations by one or both of the spouses although he, she or they are physically capable of performing such obligations.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly mentioned that the characteristic of the incapacity must be one that is serious, with juridical antecedence, and that which is incurable.  The incapacity is serious if the concerned spouse cannot carry out the normal duties of marriage and family life like any other person living under similar circumstances.  There is juridical antecedence if the roots of the incapacity can be traced to the personal history of the spouse before marriage, although its overt manifestations appeared only during the marriage.  Lastly, the incapacity is one that is incurable if any treatment given to the subject will no longer produce the desired results, or if the treatments required will require unreasonable time and resources beyond the capacity of the couple.

The filing of the Petition for the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage is confined not only to the “sane” party.  Recent rules and jurisprudence now provide that the incapacitated spouse may already institute the Petition to impute his own incapacity as the ground for the declaration of nullity of marriage.

Void Marriages In The Philippines

A marriage in the Philippines is generally considered void if any one of the essential or formal requisites of marriage, as listed under the Family Code of the Philippines, is absent.  Likewise, there are additional grounds aside from absence of a requisite which make a marriage void or inexistent from the start.

If a marriage is void, the proper remedy is for the parties to file for the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage. By mistake, people would term this remedy as Annulment, but annulment is a remedy which is applicable if the marriage is voidable.

Article 35 of the Family Code of the Philippines enumerates which marriages are considered void.  However, there are other articles within the Code which categorize marriages also to being null.

The following marriages are deemed void:

  1. Contracted by any party below 18 years of age.

A Filipino is considered as to have entered the legal age when he reaches the age of eighteen (18) years.    Once 18, he is deemed legally capacitated to enter into contracts, including the special contract of marriage.

It is of no moment if a Filipino below 18 years receives the consent of his parents to get married.  The legal capacity must, by itself, belong to the marrying parties, and not by those who may grant their consent to the marriage.

The marriage is void whether one or both parties are aged below 18 at the time the marriage was celebrated.

  1. Solemnized by any person not legally authorized to perform marriages, unless one or both parties believed in good faith that the solemnizing officer had the legal authority to do so.


The law enumerates who are authorized to solemnize marriages.  Beyond the list, the marriage which transpired is considered void.  However, if any of the parties genuinely believed that the officer had the authority to solemnize the marriage, then the marriage shall remain valid.  Good faith means that the parties exerted reasonable inquiry and investigation on the authority of the officer who was to solemnize the ceremony.

  1. Solemnized without a license, except as otherwise provided

The issuance of a valid marriage license to both contracting parties is a must before the marriage is officiated.  However, the law itself provides for exceptions to the necessity of having a marriage license, as follows:

  • Marriage among Muslims or members of ethnic cultural minorities;

  • Solemnized outside the Philippines where no marriage license is required;

  • Marriage between a man and a woman who have cohabited as husband and wife for at least five years.  The cohabitation must be characterized by exclusivity;

  • Marriages held in articulo mortis;

  • Marriages held in remote places.


  1. Bigamous or Polygamous marriages


A person, once married, is not allowed to enter into another marriage until the first spouse dies, or until the marriage is declared void by the courts.  An exception to this rule is if one spouse has been judicially declared as presumptively dead.  Another exception is if the contracting parties belong to the Muslim faith which allows men to have a maximum of four (4) wives.

  1. Marriages contracted through mistake of one of the parties as to the identity of the other

The mistake here pertains to the physical identity of one of the parties, and not with regard to the character, health, rank or fortune of the other party to the marriage.

It may seem very cinematic but the usual samples that apply to this void marriage include a twin appearing at the marriage instead of the other brother, or a man who exchanged I dos with a woman so heavily veiled, only to find out she is a woman other than his fiancé.  These marriages are void because legally, there is an absence of consent to the marriage.

  1. Subsequent marriages that are void under Article 53 of the Family Code

If either of the spouses had previous marriages, the law mandates them to complete other necessities before remarrying.  These requirements include the recording of the judgment of nullity of marriage, the distribution of the marital properties, and the distribution of presumptive legitimes of the children.  If any of the parties remarry without complying with the requirements, the subsequent marriage shall be null and void.

  1. Contracted by a party who at the time of the marriage was psychologically incapacitated

This is probably the most “abused” and misunderstood ground for the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage in the Philippines.  Often, Filipinos come to court and petition for the nullification of their marriage on the perception that any irreconcilable difference between spouses equate to psychological incapacity.

Our laws do not provide an exact definition of psychological incapacity, but for purposes of nullifying a marriage, psychological incapacity must be restricted to an incapacity to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage.  The incapacity must involve a senseless, protracted and constant refusal to comply with the essential marital obligations by one or both of the spouses although he, she or they are physically capable of performing such obligations.  It lust likewise refer to a mental, not physical, incapacity that causes a party to be incognitive of the basic marital covenants that be assumed during the union.

The incapacity must be present at the time of the marriage, although it became manifest only after marriage. Additionally, the incapacity must be characterized as grave and one that appears to be incurable.