No legal right

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Atty. Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - February 14, 2020 - 12:00am

This is another case about common-law relationship. It involves a controversy between the legitimate spouse and the living-in partner of a man after he died. The main issue here is the right to make funeral arrangements for the man. Can the common-law wife and the live-in partner shoulder the funeral and burial expenses of the man and inter him at her family’s burial plot or mausoleum despite the legal wife’s objection and request that he be interred in her family’s burial plot? This is the issue resolved in this case.

This is the case of a lawyer (Antonio), a partner in a law office, and married to Denise Yulo. The couple had two sons, three daughters and an adopted child. Despite their large family, their marriage turned sour and they were eventually separated-in-fact. About 20 years later, Antonio courted Marj, one of his clients. Eventually, they decided to live together as husband and wife. Despite such arrangement, Antonio never forgot his obligation to support Denise and the children.

While living-in with Marj, Antonio got seriously ill. So, Marj took good care of him and even paid for all his medical expenses unlike Denise who never cared for him. In fact when Antonio was already in a coma and dying, Denise still left for the United States. While Denise and the children were in the States spending Christmas, and 37 years after their marriage, Antonio died of emphysema. As none of his family members was around, Marj took it upon herself to shoulder the funeral and burial expenses of Antonio. However, when Denise learned about the death of her husband, she immediately called Marj and requested that she delay the interment for a few days. But her request was not heeded as Marj already interred the remains of Antonio at the mausoleum of her family. Denise and her children were not able to attend the interment.

So Denise and the children filed an action in court (RTC) against Marj for actual, moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees, claiming that they were deprived of the chance to view the remains of Antonio before he was buried at the mausoleum of Marj’s family, contrary to his wishes.

Marj countered that Denise and Antonio had been separated for more than 20 years before he courted her and lived with her and throughout the time they were together, he had introduced her to his friends and associates as his wife. She said that she took good care of Antonio and paid for all his medical expenses when he got seriously ill. On the other hand, despite knowing that Antonio was in a coma and dying, Denise and their children still left for the States. She also claimed that it was Antonio’s last wish that he be interred at her family’s mausoleum.

The RTC dismissed the complaint of Denise for lack of merit as well as the counterclaim of Marj because it was not sufficiently proven. But it sustained Marj’s claim that it was Atty. Antonio’s wish to be interred at her family’s mausoleum as they were living together for a long time already. The court also concluded that Denise did not show love and care for Antonio as she even left for the States at the time he was fighting for his illness. Considering also that Marj performed all the duties and responsibilities of a wife, the RTC declared that it could reasonably be presumed that it was Antonio’s wish to be buried in her family’s mausoleum. Besides the exhumation and transfer to Antonio’s family plot would not serve any useful purpose, so he should be spared and respected.

But the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed and set aside the RTC decision. The CA said that Denise being the legal wife was entitled to the custody of the remains of her deceased husband according to Article 305 of the New Civil Code (NCC) in relation to Article 199 of the Family Code (FC). These laws give the surviving spouse not only the duty but also the right to make arrangements for the funeral of the husband. Despite their 30 years separation, her marriage to Antonio still subsists at the time of the latter’s death.

This ruling of the CA was upheld by the Supreme Court. The SC said that under Article 305 of the NCC, the duty and right to make arrangements for the funeral of a relative shall be in accordance with the order established for support under Article 199 of the Family Code. In the latter Article, the spouse is the first in line to give support and is therefore also the first in the order to make funeral arrangements. Besides under Section 1103 (a) of the Administrative Code, the immediate duty of burying the body of a deceased person regardless of the ultimate responsibility for the expenses thereof devolve upon the surviving spouse if the deceased was a married man or woman. Even if it is the wish of Antonio to be buried in Marj family’s mausoleum, such wish is limited by law. Besides no evidence was presented by Marj regarding such wish.

But for the laudable acts of Marj in taking care of Antonio during his final moments and giving him proper burial, it would be unkind to assess actual, moral and exemplary damages against her (Valino vs. Adriano et. Al. G.R. 182894, April 22, 2014)

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