Void not due to psychological incapacity but for lack of marriage license

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

Marriage can be a boon or a bane.

“Living happily ever after” as most fairy tales would end, may happen but not magically. To be politically correct, a happy ending is not really an ending but a continuing journey that entails a lot of effort that the parties must put in, in their marriage.

Yet when one or both parties have had enough, then they can resort to untying the knot.

There are many grounds to declare a marriage void. The most commonly invoked is the affliction of psychological incapacity by either or both spouses pursuant to Article 36 of the Family Code.

This column had written about the more realistic stance taken by jurisprudence of late in treating petitions for nullity of marriage on account of psychological incapacity.

Taking their cue from the Tan-Andal case (11 May 2021) which pronounced that psychological incapacity is a legal, not a medical concept, the subsequent cases of Constancia Javate-Asejo v. Justiniano Zantua Asejo and Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 247798. January 18, 2023, Agnes Padrique Georfo v. Republic of the Philippines and Joe-Ar Jabian Georfo, G.R. No. 246933. March 6, 2023, and  Fernando C. Clavecilla, represented by Atty. Marvel C. Clavecilla v. Marivic V. Clavecilla and the Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 228127. March 6, 2023, further explained that courts must be “sensitized” in terms of “power dynamics” in Filipino families and their structures and sensibilities, in appreciating evidence proving psychological incapacity.

For instance, courts must not dismiss a petition for nullity just because the psychiatrist was not able to interview the psychologically incapacitated spouse or because the only witnesses are family members of the petitioner. To be sure, the cooperation of the other spouse cannot be expected when he/ she has been estranged from the petitioner spouse and the animosity is still fresh and overpowering.

Yet despite this quite liberal stance, the essence of psychological incapacity is not deemed diluted. In Sue Ann Bounsit-Torralba v. Joseph B. Torralba, G.R. No. 214392, which was handed down on December 7, 2022, it was still held that a spouse who is a “compulsive gambler, habitual drunkard, womanizer, illegal substance user, and even a drug trafficker”, cannot be deemed as psychologically incapacitated if such cannot be traced to the afflicted spouse’s personal history that predated the marriage.

This harkens the teaching in Tan-Andal which states that the psychological incapacity must be proven to be “durable” and  based on “psychic cause/s”, not just an aberrant or erratic behavior.

But the Sue Ann Bounsit-Torralba case has a twist.

It turned out that apart from alleged psychological incapacity undergirding the petition for nullity of marriage, the petitioner further anchored the petition on lack of marriage license based on Article 35 of the Family Code.

Evidence revealed that the marriage was celebrated without a marriage license as the parties had supposedly lived together for a period of five (5) years prior to the solemnization. This turned out to be false as they did not in fact cohabit and worse, they did not submit any affidavit of cohabitation which is required by law.

This convinced the Supreme Court to declare the marriage as void, not on account of psychological incapacity, but because of absence of a marriage license.

Indeed, Sue Ann Bounsit-Torralba illumines that a marriage cannot be deemed void on one ground but can be a nullity based on another ground.

Too, this affirms the assertion that two (2) or more grounds for nullity of marriage may be joined in one (1) petition.

Thus the many variables that must be considered in filing a petition for nullity of marriage. Just like the marriage itself, that there are so many moving parts that the parties must reckon to keep the marriage from falling apart, undoing the marriage can be as complicated as it can get, as well.

(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 law book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).