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May a spouse recover moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees as a consequence of a marriage that has been declared null and void because of the psychological incapacity? This is one of the issues raised and answered in this case of Leo and Lucy.

Leo and Lucy got married on July 4, 1979 and begot a son. From the start of their marriage Leo appeared to give his career as a banker and businessman the first priority and was unable to relate not only to Lucy as a husband but also to their son as a father. He appeared to have no inclination to make their marriage work. Eventually when troubles came Lucy and Leo separated. While Lucy tried to save the marriage, Leo was reluctant and refused to reconcile.

In fact it was even Leo who filed with the RTC a petition on July 12, 1992 for the declaration of nullity of their marriage on the ground of the alleged psychological incapacity of Lucy. After Lucy filed her answer, Leo amended his petition by stating that both he and Lucy were psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations. But in her amended answer Lucy denied the allegation that she was psychologically incapacitated and specifically prayed for moral and exemplary damages in the total amount of P7 million because Leo deceived her into marrying her when he was psychologically incapacitated.

After trial, the RTC found from the testimonies not only of the parties, particularly Lucy, but likewise those of the two psychologists, that the acts of Leo after the marriage were sufficient proof of his psychological incapacity and therefore the product of his incapacity to comply with the essential obligations of marriage. Thus on July 31, 1995, the RTC rendered judgment declaring the marriage between them null and void ab initio; awarding custody of their son to Lucy; ordering the liquidation of their conjugal assets; and ordering Leo to pay Lucy, moral damages in the amount of P2.5 million, exemplary damages of P1 million and attorney’s fees of P100,000.

In awarding moral and exemplary damages, the RTC said that as a result of Leo acts after their marriage which proved his psychological incapacity, Lucy suffered mental anguish, fright serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock and social humiliation. On the other hand, his act of filing the petition for annulment compelled Lucy to litigate and hire a lawyer thereby entitling her to be reimbursed the attorney’s fees she paid. This decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). Were the RTC and the CA correct in awarding moral, exemplary damages and attorney’s fees?

No. Psychological incapacity is no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly in-cognitive of the basic marital covenants that concomitantly must be assumed and discharged by the parties to the marriage. It is the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage.

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When the RTC and the CA considered Leo’s acts as proof of his psychological incapacity, they considered these acts as willful and hence as grounds for granting moral and exemplary damages. It is contradictory to characterize acts as a product of psychological incapacity, and hence beyond the control of the party because of an innate inability, while at the same time consider the same set of acts as willful. By declaring Leo as psychologically incapacitated, the awarding of moral and exemplary damages on the same set of facts was negated.

Since psychological incapacity means that one is truly in-cognitive of the basic marital covenants or has a mental incapacity causing an utter inability to comply with the obligations of marriage, it removes the basis for the contention that Leo purposely deceived Lucy into marrying him. Thus the award of moral and exemplary damages was without basis. For the same reason, the award of attorney’s fees is left without basis (Buenaventura vs. Court of Appeals and Buenaventura, G.R. 127358 and 127448, March 31, 2005).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call Tel. 7249445.

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E-mail at: jcson@pldtdsl.net

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