A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2015 - 12:00am

A foreign divorce decree may be recognized in the Philippines if it is obtained by a married couple who are both citizens of the foreign country and if it is duly authenticated by the foreign court. This is illustrated in this case of Dan and Dina.

Dan and Dina were married in Quezon City, Philippines. After marriage they resided in San Francisco, California, USA where Dan engaged in courier service business while Dina worked as a nurse. During their marriage, they begot two children Jerry and Gina, and acquired real and personal properties in the Philippines and in the US. Eventually they likewise acquired American citizenship.

After almost 13 years of marriage and due to business reverses, Dan left the family in the US and returned to his hometown in the Philippines where he stayed and set up his own business. Even if they were separated, Dina went several times to visit Dan here, while Dan has also been going back to the US to visit her and their children. In her first visit here Dina executed a Special Power of Attorney authorizing Dan to sell the house and lot they acquired in Manila.

Two years after Dan went back to the Philippines, he started having extra-marital affairs with Lita, his townmate. Eventually Dan and Lita lived together as husband and wife. Lita even represented herself as Dan’s wife by using his surname and signing the consent form as wife of Dan when the latter was operated.

So in her next visit to the Philippines, Dina confronted Dan about the latter’s extra marital affairs and demanded that they execute a Joint Affidavit stating: (1) that Dan shall renounce and forfeit all his rights and interest in the conjugal properties situated in the Philippines; (2) that they will sell the house and lot in Manila for P1.1 million and the proceeds shall be paid to and collected by Dina and (3) that Dan shall return to Dina the one-half amount used in redeeming said house and amounting to P750,000.

In his last visit to the US, on the other hand, Dan likewise discussed with Dina the filing by the latter of a petition for dissolution of the marriage with the California Court. Such turn for the worse in their relationship resulted in the granting of a divorce decree by the California Court four years after their separation and 17 years after their marriage. The Court also granted custody of the children to Dina as well as all their properties in the US.

Back here in the Philippines, Dina also filed a Petition before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for Judicial Separation of their properties here relying on the Joint Affidavit they executed earlier and praying for (1) the power to administer all the conjugal properties in the Philippines; (2) Dan and his partner to cease and desist from selling the subject conjugal properties; (3) the forfeiture of all the conjugal properties to their children; (4) Dan to remit half of the purchase price of the house and lot in Manila; and (5) payment of all litigation expenses.

The RTC recognized the divorce decree issued by the California Court since both parties are US citizens and since their marriage has already been dissolved, it considered the petition of Dina as one for liquidation of their absolute community of property regime with determination of the legitime, custody and support of the children instead of judicial separation. The RTC held that the waiver and renunciation made by Dan in the Joint Affidavit is void for being contrary to the Family Court.  So: (1) it awarded the net assets of the absolute community property in the Philippines to Dan only, with all the US properties in the sole ownership of Dina pursuant to the divorce decree except that one-half thereof shall be considered as presumptive legitimes of their children to be annotated in the titles documents covering the properties; and (2) with respect to the proceeds of the sale of the house and lot in Manila, the unpaid balance thereof amounting to P410,000 shall be given to Dan in the sum of P5,000 and to the two children as their presumptive legitimes in the sum of P405,000.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA) the later modified the decision of the RTC by directing  the equal division of the Philippine properties and each of them to pay their common children P520,000 out of their share in the sale of the Manila property.

Dan questioned the CA decision. He contended that it should have recognized the California Judgment which awarded the Philippine properties to him as it awarded the US properties to Dina; He argued that allowing Dina to share in the Philippine properties is tantamount to unjust enrichment in favor of Dina. Is Dan correct?

No. For the foreign divorce decree relating to the status of marriage to be recognized here, the presentation of a copy thereof duly authenticated by the foreign court issuing the said decree must be presented. In this case, only the divorce decree was presented in evidence. The required certificates to prove its authenticity as well as the California Law on divorce were not presented. These are either the official publication thereof or a copy attested by the officer having legal custody thereof. This certificate may be issued by any of the authorized Philippine embassy or consular officials stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept and authenticated by the seal of his office.

So absent a valid recognition of the divorce decree, it follows that the parties are still legally married in the Philippines. Thus the judicial separation of the absolute community of property in the Philippines as prayed by Dina should be granted with Dan getting only one half and Dina another half including the proceeds of the sale of the house and lot in Manila. As to the presumptive legitime, the two children are entitled to one half of the share of each spouse in the absolute community of property. With respect to the California properties, the Philippine Court did not acquire jurisdiction so it cannot be the subject of liquidation here. The decision of the CA must be affirmed (Noveras vs Noveras, G.R. 188289, August 20, 2014).

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Email: attyjosesison@gmail.com.

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