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.

Legal Separation In The Philippines

Legal Separation or relative divorce is a judicial decree allowing married couples from living separately from bed and board.

Compared to Declaration of Nullity of Marriage and Annulment of Marriage, not too many petitions for legal separation are filed in court.  This is probably because legal separation does not have the effect of severing the marital bond and thus, none of the parties may enter into another marriage.

There are several grounds on which a petition for legal separation may be filed on.  These include:

  1. Repeated physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner;

  2. Physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation;

  3. Attempt of respondent to corrupt or induce the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner to engage in prostitution, or connivance in such corruption or inducement;

  4. Final judgment sentencing the respondent to imprisonment of more than six years, even if pardoned;

  5. Drug addiction or habitual alcoholism of the respondent;

  6. Lesbianism or homosexuality of the respondents;

  7. Contracting by the respondent of a subsequent bigamous marriage, whether in the Philippines or abroad;

  8. Sexual infidelity or perversion;

  9. Attempt by the respondent against the life of the petitioner; or

  10. Abandonment of petitioner by respondent without justifiable cause for more than one year.

A petition for legal separation is not heard immediately after it is filed. A mandatory six-month cooling-off period is set by the court to give the parties enough time to contemplate on a possible reconciliation.

Not all petitions for legal separation are granted by the courts.  The reasons for the denial vary from failure to prove the attendance of any of the above-mentioned grounds, as well as any of the following:

  1. Where the aggrieved party has condoned the offense or act complained of;

  2. Where the aggrieved party has consented to the commission of the offense or act complained of;

  3. Where there is connivance between the parties in the commission of the offense or act constituting the ground for legal separation;

  4. Where both parties have given ground for legal separation;

  5. Where there is collusion between the parties to obtain the decree of legal separation; or

  6. Where the action is barred by prescription;

  7. Death of one of the parties; and

  8. Reconciliation of the parties.

On the other hand, a petition for legal separation which is granted by the courts shall have the following effects:

  1. The spouses shall be entitled to live separately from each other even if the marriage bond is not severed;

  2. The absolute community or conjugal partnership shall be dissolved and liquidated;

  3. The custody of the minor children shall be awarded to the innocent spouse, subject to exceptions like the tender-age rule or the choice of a child above seven years;

  4. The offending spouse shall be disqualified from inheriting from the innocent spouse by intestate succession, and the provisions in favor of the offending spouse made in a will of the innocent spouse shall be revoked by operation of law;

  5. The offending spouse shall have no right to any share in the net profits of the absolute community or the conjugal partnership;

  6. The innocent spouse may revoke the donations made by him in favor of the offending spouse, as well as the designation of the latter as beneficiary in any insurance policy, even if the designation be irrevocable.

As an additional effect, the wife cannot petition to be allowed to use her maiden surname even after legal separation is granted.