Jurisprudential keys in proving psychological incapacity

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

Much has been written in this column on the physical manifestations of psychological incapacity and the other nuances of such a malady.

To recall, the presence of “psychological incapacity” as a ground to declare a marriage void as envisaged under Article 36 of the Family Code was not present in the Civil Code. This means that this ground was introduced only as of August 03, 1988 when the Family Code was enacted.

In the recent case of Arthur A. Candelario v. Marlene E. Candelario and the Office of the Solicitor General, G.R. No. 222068, which was handed down only on July 25, 2023, a petition for nullity of marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code was denied/ dismissed. The issues that cropped up in said case are as follows:


  • Given that Art. 36 of the Family Code as a ground to nullify a marriage on account of psychological incapacity was not present in Civil Code, may parties to marriages solemnized prior to August 03, 1988 when the Family Code took effect, invoke Art. 36?
  • May a spouse who opted not to file an answer, claim that her “vested rights” would be impaired if the petition under Art. 36 will be filed and said law be given retroactive effect, as the respondent spouse’s property rights may be affected?
  • Post Tan-Andal, what are the requisites that must be established by clear and convincing evidence to have a marriage declared void due to psychological incapacity?
  • What must the psychiatric report include to sufficiently establish the presence of psychological incapacity in terms of personality structure of the psychologically incapacitated spouse?

Illuminating on said issues, the Supreme Court held:


1)Retroactive effect of Art. 36 of the Family Code. A plain reading of the above provisions would reveal that the Family Code, including its concept of psychological incapacity as a ground to nullify marriage, shall be given retroactive effect, to the extent that no vested or acquired rights under relevant laws will be prejudiced or impaired. The amendment of Art. 39 would also show that an action for nullifying a marriage is imprescriptible, without any distinction as to whether the marriage was solemnized before or after the effectivity of the Family Code (Arthur A. Candelario v. Marlene E. Candelario, ibid). 

2)Spouse who does not file an answer cannot claim that her vested rights would be impaired by the retroactive application of Art. 36 of the Family Code. On this score, it must be noted that the records are bereft of any indication that there were vested or acquired rights that were prejudiced or impaired in this case. As mentioned by Arthur in his Petition, ‘[ d]uring their marriage, the spouses have not acquired real and personal properties of significant value’. It bears emphasis that if Marlene had an actual vested or acquired right that would be prejudiced should the Family Code be given retroactive effect, she should have raised such matter at the first possible instance or at any given stage of the proceedings where she was required to file an answer or comment. However, this she did not do. For failure to avail herself of the several opportunities given to her, she is deemed to have waived her right to prove and testify on such matter  (Arthur A. Candelario v. Marlene E. Candelario, ibid).  

3)Gravity, incurability and juridical antecedence explained further. Be that as it may, the alleged psychological incapacity must still be shown to be grave, incurable, and juridically antecedent. First, gravity still has to be established, if only to preclude spouses from invoking mild characterological peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts as ground for nullity. Second, incurability should also be understood in the legal sense. So long as the couple’s respective personality structures are so incompatible and antagonistic that the only result of the union would be the inevitable breakdown of the marriage, the psychological incapacity of a spouse or both spouses is deemed “incurable”. Third, juridical antecedence or the existence of the condition prior to the celebration of marriage, is a statutory requirement which must be proven by the spouse alleging psychological incapacity (Arthur A. Candelario v. Marlene E. Candelario, ibid).  

4)Psychiatrist’s report lacks data. A reading of Dr. (x x x’s) report reveals that her findings are lacking in data as to Arthur’s personality structure and how it incapacitates him to perform the essential marital obligations. Neither does it prove that Arthur’s psychological incapacity is due to a genuine psychic cause. While the report was detailed on how Arthur had a difficult upbringing, it failed to show that his condition made it practically impossible for him to comply with the ordinary duties required in marriage. It only offered a general assessment on the supposed effect of Arthur’s personality disorder to his marital union with Marlene (Arthur A. Candelario v. Marlene E. Candelario, ibid).  

                The recent ruling in Arthur A. Candelario v. Marlene E. Candelario, ibid, serves as a harsh reminder that despite the Tan-Andal doctrine which enunciates that “psychological incapacity is not a medical, but a legal concept” and that a psychiatric report is not indispensable to prove psychological incapacity; still, the elements of gravity, incurability and juridical antecedence must still be proven by mounting clear and convincing evidence of said requisites.  Too, the psychiatric report must also highlight the psychological make-up of the spouse who is claimed to be psychologically incapacitated and “how” it “incapacitates” him or her to perform essential marital obligations, to expect a successful result in the nullity petition under Article 36.

            (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, MCLE lecturer, bar reviewer and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).