SUPREME COURT AGAIN RELAXES THE RULES ON ANNULMENT OF MARRIAGE IN THE PHILIPPINES

“Yet, we are not blind to the reality that a person may be truly psychologically incapable for the other from the beginning. Should there be grave need to part for the reasons we have stated, courts can lead the way to make parting less bitter, minimize animosity, and make lives more forward-looking for those most affected.

Parting is  already a  sorrow. It need not be more than what it already is.”

 

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So ended the most recent and  unanimous Decision by the Supreme Court of the Philippines in  Rosanna L. Tan-Andal Vs. Mario Victor M. Andal G.R. No. 196359. May 11, 2021  , amidst mounting case law on annulment that had seen only a handful of  decisions by the High Court in the last 30 years which surmounted the legal obstacles brought about by rigid rules ( Santos v. Court of Appeals, 310 Phil 21 and Republic v. Court of Appeals and Molina, 335 Phil. 664 )  that itself provided in  deciding the happiness of thousands, if not millions,  of  married people who were adjudged to suffer for a lifetime for a  “simple mistake in one’s choice of intimate partner, a  mistake too easy to make as when one sees through rose-colored glasses.”

If this is not an admonition of judges who have denied annulments for people who have suffered  so much for so long, if not a directive for a more compassionate view of annulment cases, it would be difficult to find another case equal in force and determination.

The facts are not unusual, many pieces of which are in every marriage in varying degrees.

It is your typical boy meets girl, girl gets pregnant, couple get married, and before the honeymoon could even start, that thing called marriage begins to rear its ugly head. Husband early on loses his “provider role” in the marriage and the family has to rely on the business established by the wife, which eventually had to close because of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds by the head of the family. Husband, feeling the pressure and perhaps a diminution of his manhood, goes back to his drug habits from his college years. After episodes involving accusations back and forth between the spouses, culminating in a kidnap attempt by the husband to take away his only child and referrals to rehabilitation centers to cure the husband of his drug addcition, the couple finally separated after only four years of “wedded bliss”.

Wife files for a declaration of nullity of the marriage  and in 2007, the trial court agreed and found the husband psychologically incapacitated to perform his marital obligations. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and the wife appealed to the Supreme Court which granted the appeal and finally declared the marriage null and void, saying:

X x x x

In any case, inasmuch as the Constitution regards marriage as an inviolable social institution and the foundation of the family, courts must not hesitate to void marriages that are patently ill-equipped due to psychic causes inherent in the person of the spouses. In the past, marriages had been upheld solely for the sake of their permanence when, paradoxically, doing so destroyed the sanctity afforded to the institution.

X x x x

In this way, the Code Committee’s intent to limit the incapacity to “psychic causes” is fulfilled. Furthermore, there will be no need to label a person as having a  mental disorder just to obtain a  decree of nullity. A psychologically incapacitated person need not be shamed and pathologized for what could have been a  simple mistake in one’s choice of intimate partner, a  mistake too easy to make as when one sees through rose-colored glasses. A person’s psychological incapacity to fulfill his or her marital obligations should not be at the expense of one’s dignity, because it  could very well be that he or she did not know that the incapacity existed in the first place.

X x x x

Love is founded on a  promise: to seek beyond ourselves in order to enable and ennoble the other to continue to become the best version of themselves. Being in love can be carried on the wings of poetry, announced publicly through each other’s gazes. It is  made real and felt with every act of unconditional care and comfort that the lover provides. Love can be beyond labels. Marriage is not compulsory when in love; neither does it  create love. Nonetheless, it remains an institution designed to provide legal and public recognition that may be well deserved not only for the couple, but also for their families existing or yet to come. To be clear, our collective hope is that one who chooses marriage realizes that the other deserves more caring, more compassion, more kindness in the daily and banal grind of their relationship. It is in these same values of sacrifice and empathy that we will have the chance to evolve into a society that is more humane and, eventually, more just. Yet, we are not blind to the reality that a person may be truly psychologically incapable for the other from the beginning. Should there be grave need to part for the reasons we have stated, courts can lead the way to make parting less bitter, minimize animosity, and make lives more forward- looking for those most affected.

              To summarize the findings of the Supreme Court, vis a vis Molina:

              1)  Molina placed the burden of proving the psychological incapacity on the Petitioner but is silent as to the quantum of proof, which opened it to a very rigid application. The Court now says that psychological incapacity must be proved with “clear and convincing evidence” which it noted is somewhere between preponderance of evidence in  civil cases and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases;

              2) The need for a psychologist—To use the Court’s own words:  “xxxxthis Court now categorically abandons the second Molina guideline. Psychological incapacity is neither a mental incapacity nor a  personality disorder that must be proven through expert opinion. There must be proof, however, of the durable or enduring aspects of a person’s personality, called “personality structure,” which manifests itself through clear acts of dysfunctionality that undermines the family. The spouse’s personality structure must make it impossible for him or her to understand and, more important, to comply with his or her essential marital obligations.”

              3) Juridical antecedence—“Reading together the deliberations of the Code Committee and our rulings in Santos and Molina, we hold that the psychological incapacity contemplated in Article 36 of the Family Code is incurable, not in the medical, but in the legal sense; hence, the third Molina guideline is amended accordingly. This means that the incapacity is so enduring and persistent with respect to a  specific partner, and contemplates a  situation where the couple’s respective personality structures are so incompatible and antagonistic that the only result of the union would be the inevitable and irreparable breakdown of the marriage. “[A]n undeniable pattern of such f persisting failure [to be a present, loving, faithful, respectful, and supportive spouse] must be established so as to demonstrate that there is indeed a psychological anomaly or incongruity in the spouse relative to the other.”

4) Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable.— “Reading together the deliberations of the Code Committee and our rulings in Santos and Molina, we hold that the psychological incapacity contemplated in Article 36 of the Family Code is incurable, not in the medical, but in the legal sense; hence, the third Molina guideline is amended accordingly. This means that the incapacity is so enduring and persistent with respect to a  specific partner, and contemplates a  situation where the couple’s respective personality structures are so incompatible and antagonistic that the only result of the union would be the inevitable and irreparable breakdown of the marriage. “[A]n undeniable pattern of such f persisting failure [to be a present, loving, faithful, respectful, and supportive spouse] must be established so as to demonstrate that there is indeed a psychological anomaly or incongruity in the spouse relative to the other.”

5) Gravity—“ With respect to gravity, the  requirement is retained, not in the sense that the psychological incapacity must be shown to be a serious or dangerous illness, but that “mild characterological peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts” are excluded. The psychological incapacity cannot be mere “refusal, neglect[,] or difficulty, much less ill will.” In other words, it must be shown that the incapacity is caused by a genuinely serious psychic cause.”

6) “Molina provides that the essential marital obligations are “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.”—-The Court now says:

“Under Christian doctrine, specifically the teachings of St. Augustine, marriages embody three traditional values or bonum matrimonii: (1) bonum jidei, or “the faithful exclusiveness of the marital commitment”; (2) bonum savramenti, which refers to the permanence of marriage; and (3) bonum prolis, that is, that marriage is primarily for procreation or, at the very least, openness to having children. The Family Code definition of marriage reflects all of these Christian values, specifically, the exclusivity of a  marital relation between “a man and a  woman,” the characterization of marriage as a “permanent union,” and its purpose being “for the / establishment of conjugal and family life.”

Both under canon and secular law, bonum prolis is as essential as bonum .fidei. This only shows that the spouses’ obligations to their children, once children are conceived, is as much a part of the spouses’ obligations to each other. Failure to perform these obligations to their children may be a ground to nullify a spouse’s marriage. But not all kinds of failure to meet their obligations to their children will nullify the vinculum between the spouses. In each case, it must be clearly shown that it is of such grievous nature that it reflects on the capacity of one of the spouses for marriage. The easy cases are when one of the spouses sexually abuses one of their children; or, when unknown to the other spouse, a child is subjected to domestic violence; or when due to the spouse’s refusal to go through counseling or rehabilitation, his or her substance abuse puts a child through a situation of neglect or outright danger. As in all cases, the context of the whole case, shown by clear and convincing evidence, should be taken into consideration. “

7) The persuasive effect of the decisions of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church of the Philippines on nullity cases pending before secular courts is retained. Without prejudice to the ponente’s view on the  separation of Church and State, the inescapable reality is that Article 36 of the Family Code was lifted from canon law, specifically, Canon 1095 of the New Code of Canon Law.256 As such, Canon 1095 should be taken into account in interpreting Article 3 6 and in deciding psychological incapacity cases.

We end as the Court begun this landmark decision:

Given the variability and intensity of intimate human relationships, Article 36 of the Family Code on psychological incapacity as a  ground for declaration of nullity of marriage was intended to be humane and evolved on a case-to-case basis, but resilient in its application. However, diametrically  opposed to this intent, this Court’s interpretation of the provision beginning with Santos v. Court of Appeals1 and Republic v. Court of Appeals and Molina has proven to be restrictive, rigid, and intrusive on our rights to liberty, autonomy, and human dignity.

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