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Annulment cases no longer need expert testimony, says Supreme Court

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 05:44 AM May 13, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Couples seeking to legally end their marriage due to psychological incapacity will no longer have to present mental health experts to testify in court, the Supreme Court declared on Wednesday.

In a landmark ruling, the 15-member tribunal unanimously agreed that psychological incapacity, one of the most common grounds cited in annulment cases, was “not a medical, but a legal concept.”

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The high court handed down the decision in its review of an annulment case during its weekly en banc session on Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s public information office said.

“(Psychological incapacity) refers to a personal condition that prevents a spouse (from complying) with fundamental marital obligations only in relation to a specific partner that may exist at the time of the marriage, but may have revealed through behavior subsequent to the ceremonies,” the court said.

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“It need not be a mental or personality disorder. It need not be a permanent and incurable condition. Therefore, the testimony of (a) psychologist or psychiatrist is not mandatory in all cases,” the tribunal added.

It emphasized that in annulment cases the “totality of the evidence must show clear and convincing evidence to cause the declaration of nullity of marriage.”

New interpretation

The decision altered the interpretation of Article 36 of Republic Act No. 8533, or the Family Code of the Philippines, which listed psychological incapacity as among the grounds to seek the annulment of a marriage.

The provision states that a marriage “contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”

The high tribunal has yet to make available a copy of the resolution, which was penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, also known as #LabGuru in his Twitter account where he posts his views and short poems on love and relationships.

In the absence of a divorce law in the Philippines, there are only two legal remedies for problematic and irreconcilable marriages: legal separation and annulment, which are provided for under the Family Code signed by then President Corazon Aquino in July 1987.

Lengthy, costly process

But these remedies have been found to be lengthy and expensive, often taking years to resolve and costing as much as P1 million, according to the Philippine Commission on Women.

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Aside from psychological incapacity as provided for under Article 36 of the Code, Article 45 allows a marriage to be annulled if either of the spouses is aged 18 to 20 at the time of the marriage that was solemnized without the consent of any parent or guardian; found to be of unsound mind; has a forged or forced consent; physically incapable of consummating the marriage, and found to be afflicted with a “serious and incurable” sexually-transmitted disease.

Depending on circumstances, the annulment case must be filed by the aggrieved party within five years after the marriage was solemnized, or after the discovery of the misdeed and fraudulent act.

Either spouses whose marriage was annulled may marry again upon compliance with requirements under the Family Code.

Legal separation

Under Article 55 of the same law, legal separation may be filed within five years from the occurrence of the offense on the following grounds: repeated physical violence against the petitioner or the couple’s child; pressure to change religious or political affiliation; attempt to induce petitioner or child to engage in prostitution, drug and alcohol addiction; imprisonment of respondent; homosexuality; infidelity, and murder attempt.

Once legal separation has been granted, the parties may live separately and divide their properties although their marital ties remain intact and valid, preventing them from marrying again.

In 2017, some 8,112 annulment and nullity cases were filed before the Office of the Solicitor General.

–With a report by Inquirer Research (Sources: Family Code of the Philippines, pcw.gov.ph, osg.gov.ph)
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