The discussions below will focus on five important questions about annulment in the Philippines:
1) The legal grounds under the Family Code of the Philippines.
2) The cost or how much one needs to get an annulment.
3) The time or how long it takes to process an annulment in the Philippines.
4) The distinction between a court annulment and church annulment in the Philippines, which are often confused in the largely Catholic religious traditions in the Philippines.
5) Whether or not there is divorce in the Philippines and how it contrasts with the annulment process.
1) WHAT ARE THE GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES?
DEFINITION OF TERMS:
Annulment is a broad term for two types of dissolving a marriage in the Philippines. The first type is the “annulment” in the strict sense of the word and presupposes a valid marriage but voidable for reasons like impotence or having an incurable sexually transmitted disease. The second type are void marriages like minority (under 18) or lack of a marriage license. Generally, the distinction between these two types of dissolution of a marriage hinges on their consequences. A voidable marriage is valid until annulled, and thus will have legal effects after the annulment. A void marriage, on the other hand, is void ab initio or from the very beginning. To illustrate, children born of a void marriage are generally illegitimate while children born of a voidable marriage are considered legitimate. A void marriage cannot be cured, for example by the cohabitation of the spouses after the celebration of the marriage while a voidable marriage can be cured by cohabitation.
GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT (VALID UNTIL ANNULLED)
1) Lack of parental consent if one or both of the parties are between 18 and 21 years of age;
2) Either party is of unsound mind;
3) Fraud in obtaining the consent of either party;
4) Force and initimidation in obtaining the consent of either party;
5) Impotence or failure to consummate the marriage;
6) Sexually-transmitted disease which is incurable;
( Article 35, Family Code of the Philippines)
GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT (VOID FROM THE VERY BEGINNING)
1) Minority or under 18 years of age;
2) Lack of authority of the solemnizing officer;
3) No marriage license, unless exempt under the law;
4) Bigamous or polygamous marriages;
5) Mistake as to the identity of one of the parties;
6) Subsequent marriages where the declaration of nullity of a previous marriage was not recorded in the partition or liquidation of the properties of the spouses or when there was no distribution of the presumptive legitime of the children with the proper government registry.
7) Psychological incapacity under Art. 36 of the Family Code.
A NOTE ON VIABILITY OF THE GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT:
The more common grounds are psychological incapacity, minority (uder 18) , lack of a marriage license, bigamous, and polygamous marriages. The other grounds may be difficult to prove in an actual case, requiring more witnesses and documentary evidence. For example, to prove that there was fraud in obtaining the consent of one party, handwriting experts and the witnesses to the marriage may have to be presented, not to mention employees of the city or municipality who recorded the marriage. A common occurrence is the lack of a marriage license because of cohabitation for five years prior to the marriage. One party may invoke the fact that they did not even live together before the marriage but there is usually an affidavit of cohabitation attached to the marriage certificate. To prove that the marriage is void because the cohabitation was not true will require a number of witnesses to prove and may take even longer than the more common ground of psychological incapacity.
A NOTE ON PSYCHOLOGICAL INCAPACITY AS A GROUND FOR ANNULMENT:
What complicates the annulment process in the Philippines is the legal requirement of psychological incapacity as a ground to sever the marital ties.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines has given psychological incapacity a very wide meaning. Since the law was based on Catholic Canon Law, annulment lawyers in the Philippines often cite the following illustrative instances of psychological incapacity, such as drug addiction, lesbianism, homosexuality, habitual intoxication, absence, failure to support, among others.
The Supreme Court has often required that the above instances are not exclusive and must be taken together in the determination of psychological incapacity, which has been defined generally as the failure of one spouse to comply with his or her marital obligations . The Court has also required that the psychological incapacity must be based on antecedent facts, meaning that it must have existed prior to the celebration of the marriage, must be serious although not necessarily clinical, and must be incurable.
In one recent case which departed from its more hawkish approach to annulments, the Philippine Supreme Court reconsidered its earlier decision in the same case to deny an annulment and eventually granted the Petition for Nullity filed by the husband against the wife for playing too much mahjong and inordinately vising the beauty parlor. (Kalaw vs. Fernandez, GR No 166357 ,14 January 2015, 745 SCRA 512, 554; See entire text of the official Decision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines by CLICKING HERE). Opinion has been advanced that this case constitutes a de facto divorce in the Philippines. (Relative Impermeability of the Wall of Separation: Marriage Equality in the Philippines, Raphael Lorenzon Aguiling Pangalangan, Asian Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 13, Issue 2, December 2018, pp. 415-446, Read the full article by CLICKING HERE).
2) WHAT IS THE COST OF ANNULMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES?
The quick and short answer is from a low of 300 thousand pesos to a high of 600 thousand pesos, which includes the professional fee of the attorney and out of pocket costs.
In examining the cost to annul a marriage in the Philippines, we will break down the different components, as follows:
1. The Attorney’s Fee
2. The Psychological Evaluation
3. The Filing Fee
4. Sheriff’s Fee
5. Cost of Publication
6. Cost of Annotation
7. Miscellaneous Costs
THE ATTORNEY’S FEES:
Ah, the ubiquitous attorney’s fees, this varies widely depending on the experience of the attorney, the venue, the type of billing, related issues like custody, property, and support. Understandably, this is the biggest component of the cost.
Just like any legal case, more experienced attorneys generally charge more. Experience normally carries with it expertise and higher likelihood of success. Cost is also higher with firms (made up of a number of attorneys) as compared with solo practitioners and types of billing structure. Law firms can charge on a per hour or fixed fee basis while individual lawyers generally charge fixed fees. Another billing system is the lump sum fee where a law firm or lawyer will charge a large if not the entire fee up front. Clients are usually apprehensive of agreeing to this because they feel that it would be harder to hold the lawyer accountable as the case moves forward. A happy compromise is the payment plan which has become popular with the budget-conscious and our overseas workers. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Custody, property, and support issues included in the core annulment process will add on to the cost because of the additional time and effort necessary to resolve these issues. The Family Code has allowed what is known in more mature jurisdictions like the United States as bifurcation or the separation of these issues with the main case for annulment or divorce. (Section 21 A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, March 4, 2003 or The PROPOSED RULE ON DECLARATION OF ABSOLUTE NULLITY OF VOID MARRIAGES AND ANNULMENT OF VOIDABLE MARRIAGES ).
Online sources have placed attorney’s fees between 200 thousand pesos to as high as 600,000 pesos.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION:
Again, just like with attorney’s fees, the cost of the psychological evaluation varies depending on experience. This normally has two parts, the cost of the report and the appearance fee of the psychologist as a witness in the annulment process. The written Psychological Evaluation Report itself could be as low as 25 thousand pesos to 100 thousand pesos. The appearance fee will depend on where the psychologist or psychiatrist is based relative to the venue or the place of filing of the case. This could be between 2 thousand pesos to 10 thousand pesos per hearing.
THE FILING FEE:
This is an official regulatory fee and legally covered by an Official Receipt in the name of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. The biggest portion of the filing fee is the docket fee which in annulment cases that do not involve custody, property or support is a standard 2,832 pesos. Add on costs will see some variation depending on the venue or place of filing. Total will be between 4,400 to 4,800 pesos.
All annulment cases in the Philippines will involve service of summons, notices, and other court papers like orders and decisions. The summons, by law, can only be done by the Sheriff. All other notices and papers can be mailed by the court. The fee of the sheriff is already included in the filing fee paid when the Petition is docketed with the court. (Rule 141, Revised Rules of Court in the Philippines).
A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, March 4, 2003 or The PROPOSED RULE ON DECLARATION OF ABSOLUTE NULLITY OF VOID MARRIAGES AND ANNULMENT OF VOIDABLE MARRIAGES provides, to wit:
‘x x x x x
Section 6. Summons. – The service of summons shall be governed by Rule 14 of the Rules of Court and by the following rules:
(1) Where the respondent cannot be located at his given address or his whereabouts are unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent inquiry, service of summons may, by leave of court, be effected upon him by publication once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines and in such places as the court may order In addition, a copy of the summons shall be served on the respondent at his last known address by registered mail or any other means the court may deem sufficient.
(2) The summons to be published shall be contained in an order of the court with the following data: (a) title of the case; (b) docket number; (c) nature of the petition; (d) principal grounds of the petition and the reliefs prayed for; and (e) a directive for the respondent to answer within thirty days from the last issue of publication.
X x x x “
Immediately after the passage of the Family Code in 1988, there was a deluge of cases for declaration of nullity of marriage under Art. 36 of the said law on the ground of psychological incapacity, only to be halted when the other party could not be served with summons. The above provision of law effectively solved this legal impasse by allowing for the publication of the summons in those cases where the respondent could not be located or whose whereabouts are unknown. Costs depend on the newspaper which is assigned by the court. The large national broadsheets could charge 40 to 60 thousand pesos especially in those cases where the court required the publication of the entire petition, which is actually contrary to the law. Local newspapers have charged between 10 to 20 thousand pesos. There are courts that will even require the publication of the decision which could also add to the cost.
COST OF ANNOTATION:
The annotation costs mentioned here refers to the Decision of the court granting the declaration of nullity of the marriage. A certificate of finality is obtained from the court which rendered the decision which is then endorsed to the Civil Registrar of the city or municipality where the court is situated then to the Office of the Civil Registrar where the marriage is registered, and finally to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) which is the central repository of recorded marriages in the Philippines. This is optional since the government agencies involved should move it along the system. However, left on its own, the process can take a good 6 months or more to complete.
Additional professional fees and regulatory costs total between 10 to 20 thousand pesos.
One should likewise be aware of other out of pocket expenses like printing, mailing, transportation, and stenographic fees.
3) HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PROCESS AN ANNULMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES?
The quick answer is it may take 2 years to complete the process on the average. But this is not a hard and fast rule and one must understand what goes into the handling of a case.
This is the most frequent question about annulment in the Philippines. People who are thinking of having their marriages annulled are immediately concerned about how long it will take for their cases to go through the judicial system in the Philippines, which is reputedly not the fastest in the world.
We discuss the possible bottle necks in the process below:
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION:
Most cases in the Philippines are initiated by a complaint or , in the case of an annulment, by a Petition filed in court. Normally, before one gets to the point of filing the Petition, a party seeking to annul his or her marriage must go through the process of a psychological evaluation by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. The Supreme Court has long abandoned the rule that the psychological incapacity should be “clinical”, thus making the psychological evaluation technically not an essential element in the process of annulment in the Philippines ( Supreme Court of the Philippines E-Library, Marcos vs. Marcos, G.R. No. 136490, October 19, 2000). However, in practice, most if not all family courts would still like to have a professional basis in deciding whether or not to annul a marriage. Judges are, after all, not qualified to determine the psychological capacity of the parties to a marriage. This part of the process alone is not a quick one.
Through the years, trial courts have imposed certain requirements like inviting the other spouse to participate in the psychological evaluation and having a corroborating witness to support the testimony of the Petitioner. While these sound simple enough, often the whereabouts of the other spouse is unknown. After 10 to 20 years of separation this can only be expected to happen. There are psychologists who feel uncomfortable proceeding without having the opportunity to at least interview the other spouse. The other component is the corroborating witness. While there is nothing in the law which specifically requires a witness to validate what the Petitioner has expressed to the psychologist or psychiatrist, courts have routinely sought a witness to support an annulment. Since the other spouse more often than not will not appear anymore because of the cost and the time involved, and after say 10 years of separation would most likely want the annulment anyway, most courts are skeptical about the truthfulness of a Petitioner’s statements taken by itself. The corroborating witness must at least know both parties to the annulment and has a general knowledge of what happened during the marriage which will justify the annulment. It may be safe to say that judges will not require somebody a blow by blow eye witness of the relationship. All things considered, it may not be unreasonable to expect the psychological evaluation portion alone to take 3 to 6 months to complete, unless the other spouse can easily be located and the witness interviewed quickly by the psychologist.
DRAFTING AND FINALIZING THE PETITION:
After the release of the Psychological Report, the chosen attorney will proceed to coordinate the drafting of the Petition itself based on this , the marital history and the documents submitted. How quickly the Petitioner can turn in these requirements will impinge on the length of time it takes to process their annulments. Recently, the Supreme Court has included in the requirements the documents which will prove the residence of the Petitioner such as the Notarized Barangay Certificate and Notarized Sketch of the Address, and other proofs of residence.( Supreme Court of the Philippines, OCA-Circular No. 63-2019) On the average, we have observed that it takes a minimum of 3 months for the Petitioner to submit a marital history and collate all the documents necessary to the process.
While the timeframes mentioned here are by no means absolute and are mere approximations, we are already on the 9th month or the entire gestational period for a human being to be ready to be born on this earth, and we have not even filed the Petition itself.
Once filed, the Petition is raffled to a family court. Initial notices will be sent to the attorney and the Office of the Solicitor General. Then the summons is issued and assigned to a sheriff to serve to the Respondent or the other spouse. We again hit a common snag in the process. Each Regional Trial Court in the National Capital Region with 281 courts handle an average of 4,000 cases at any given time. (Source: 2017 Supreme Court Annual Report). Each branch has only one sheriff who is tasked to serve all notices for all these cases. Factor in the difficulty of locating the Respondent, who does not necessarily want to be found by an estranged spouse because most likely he or she is already living with a new partner which is a crime in the Philippines, then you have a situation of a simple notice being served in a minimum of a couple of months to even 6 months in the more complicated situations. If the Respondent’s whereabout are unknown, publication can be requested which will easily add another 3 months to the process.
Roughly thus, we are already well into one year from the time the case was started and not a single hearing has yet to be scheduled. Hearings will involve 5 parts, the collusion investigation with the prosecutor’s office to determine if the parties conspired to file the annulment, the pre-trial , and the testimonies of the petitioner, the psychologist, and the corroborating witness. These hearings will take about 10 months to a year to complete, barring any complications such as the promotion of judges which will render the branch without a judge for months until a new one is appointed, the sudden opposition of the other spouse, delay in the publication, to mention a few factors that affect the timelines. Note must be taken also of the scheduled inventory imposed by the Supreme Court on lower courts which occur in January and July. Most family courts during these months do not schedule hearings to concentrate on the inventory of cases. Lastly, for a country with probably the longest Christmas season, which traditionally starts after the culmination of All Saints Day in November to the Three Kings Holiday in January of the next year, courts are effectively hearing cases only 8 to 10 months in a given year.
4) WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHURCH ANNULMENT AND CIVIL ANNULMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES?
Church annulment is processed through any church or religion of which one is a member. In the Philippines, this is predominantly the Catholic church which is known to pass on applications for annulments through a matrimonial tribunal. The legal basis for annulment is the Canon Law which lists, among other grounds , psychological incapacity, fraud, force or intimidation, insanity, mental illness, lack of consent, a petitioner never intended to be permanently married or faithful, and that substance abuse prevented them from consenting to a lifelong marriage.( Annulment, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, )
These grounds are similar to civil or court annulments and there was an attempt by the Philippine Congress to even automatically recognize church annulments.The Philippine House of Representatives in 2018 passed on third reading HB 6779 entitled “AN ACT RECOGNIZING THE CIVIL EFFECT OF CHURCH ANNULMENT DECREE” which aims to have a church or religious annulment automatically recognized by law and allows for its registration. This has been criticized as violating the constitutional principle of separation of church and state . Please CLICK HERE for our detailed discussion of the proposed legislation. Just like most matters having to do with the dissolution of marriage in the Philippines, the Senate refused to adopt the bill and it died a natural death. Annulments in the Catholic Church have been known to take as much as ten years and involve multiple trials. Streamlining of the process has since been commenced by Pope Francis and is reputedly now free.
Civil or court annulment, on the other hand, is processed with designated family courts under the aegis of the Family Code of the Philippines. Common grounds include minority (below 18), lack of a marriage license, lack of authority of the solemnizing officer, bigamous, and polygamous marriages.
The most important thing to remember about court and church annulments is that one is independent of the other. If the objective were to remarry in any church, one has to obtain both types of annulments. If one wants to remarry ONLY in accordance with the law, then only the court annulment is required. The Constitution of the Philippines, after all, provides for the separation of church and state.
5) IS THERE DIVORCE IN THE PHILIPPINES?
It is not completely true to say that there is no divorce in the Philippines. The Muslim Personal Code, in fact, allows for divorce under Sharia law between two Muslims, or when the husband is a Muslim.
There is even opinion to the effect that Art. 36 of the Family Code of the Philippines effectively operates as a divorce statute because it completely dissolves the marital union allowing the parties to remarry on the ground of psychological incapacity to annul the marriage “which may manifest itself during the marriage”.
The Family Code of the Philippines, however, allows for the recognition of a divorce when one of the spouses is a Filipino and the other is a foreigner ( Article 26, Family Code of the Philippines, Executive Order 209, Official Gazette of the Philippines) ). Since there is legally and effectively no divorce law in the Philippines, one view held that the recognition of divorce will be available only if the foreign spouse were the one to apply for it and would not be allowed if the Filipino spouse were to file the Petition for Recognition. The Supreme Court of the Philippines has since settled this gray area of the law in 2018 by allowing for the recognition of the divorce even when the petition is filed by the Filipino spouse ( Republic vs. Manalo, Cornell University Legal Information Institute . See also From Van Dorn to Manalo: An Analysis of the Court’s Evolving Doctrine in the Recognition of Foreign Divorce Decrees in Mixed Marriages by Amparita S. Sta. Maria, Ateneo de Manila University School of Law, Ateneo Law Journal )
(updated on 01 May 2020)
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