Jurisprudential checklist for filing a petition for nullity of marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

Despite the easing up of the stringent Molina guidelines that stifled couples from crawling out of their loveless marriages, the term “psychological incapacity” still eludes a clear definition up to today.

For the uninitiated, the term “psychological incapacity” as envisaged under Article 36 of the New Family Code had been doctrinally described as an inability – not mere refusal- to perform the essential marital obligations. But the description is opaque such that proving it in court is not an easy thing to do. Yet, it must be underlined that this is the ground which is most relied upon to ask for the declaration of nullity of a marriage in court since the passage of the Family Code in August 1988.

In the recent case of Tan-Andal, the Supreme Court relaxed the guidelines in ascertaining the presence of psychological incapacity. And more recently, in Maria Vicia Carullo-Padua v. Joselito Padua (G.R. No. 208258) which came down on April 27, 2022, the Supreme Court counted the ways on how to establish psychological incapacity, thus:

            “In concluding that the husband was psychologically incapacitated, We used the following parameters (Tan-Andal guidelines) in determining what constitutes psychological incapacity:

            (1) The psychological incapacity must be shown to have been existing at the time of the celebration of marriage;

            (2) Caused by a durable aspect of one’s personality structure, one that was formed prior to their marriage;

            (3) Caused by a genuinely serious psychic cause; and

        (4) Proven by clear and convincing evidence”.

But given that a person’s personality structure may not be ostensible or evident all the time (as it could be latent), the troubling question is how to ferret out the psychological make-up of the spouse who is afflicted with the malady?

The key is in the psychiatric evaluation which although it was held as “not indispensable”, it would nevertheless be crucial in putting a name to the illness and in tracing the history of the person afflicted that triggered the malady.

“It is accepted practice in psychiatry to base a person’s psychiatric history on collateral information, or information from sources aside from the person evaluated”. (Raphy Valdez De Silva v. Donald De Silva and Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 247985. October 13, 2021).

Apart from the psychiatric evaluation and report, the testimonies of ordinary witnesses who had the vantage point to observe the life conditions of the afflicted spouse would be essential. “To emphasize, the testimonies of ordinary witnesses who have been present in the life of the spouses before the latter contracted marriage should include behaviors that they have consistently observed from the supposedly incapacitated spouse”.(Maria Vicia Carullo-Padua v. Joselito Padua, G.R. No. 208258. April 27, 2022).

Then again, the loosening of the Molina guidelines should not be a reason to be complacent let alone lackadaisical. Mindfulness of the settled negative doctrinal checklist is still a must. Thus:

“Irreconcilable differences, conflicting personalities, emotional immaturity and irresponsibility, physical abuse, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity or perversion, and abandonment, by themselves, also do not warrant a finding of psychological incapacity under the said Article. It must be stressed that an unsatisfactory marriage is not a null and void marriage”. (Maria Vicia Carullo-Padua v. Joselito Padua, G.R. No. 208258. April 27, 2022).

In the end, what must resonate in every petition for nullity of marriage on the ground of “psychological incapacity” under Article 36 of the New Family Code is the respondent-spouse’s- or both spouses’- inability to be a good wife or husband, not just a mere refusal on account of denialism or escapism of his/ her marital duties.   

(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).