A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - August 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Aspouse may have given free and voluntary consent to a marriage but is nonetheless incapable of fulfilling the essential marital obligations. This incapacity is known as psychological incapacity of said spouse that render his/her marriage void from the beginning even if it becomes manifest only after its solemnization (Article 36 Family Code). Psychological incapacity as a ground for the declaration of nullity of marriage amounts to lack of consent because it renders a party to the marriage truly incapable of knowing and understanding the basic marital covenants to be assumed and discharged by said party. It is different from mental incapacity which constitutes a vice or defect of consent that renders the marriage voidable under Article 45 (2) of the Family Code. This is explained in this case of Andy and Regina.

Andy was ten years younger than Regina when they first met and eventually married barely a year thereafter. Only four months after marriage Regina begot a child, but the child died five months after birth. And eight months after their marriage Andy already separated from Regina because he could no longer take her unusual behavior. Then Andy attempted to reconcile with Regina but since her behavior did not change, he finally left her for good, after about 11 months since they got married.

More than a year later, Andy already filed a Petition for declaration of nullity of their marriage pursuant to Article 36 of FC because of Regina’s psychological incapacity to comply with the essential obligations of marriage.

At the hearing of the Petition before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Andy testified to prove the allegations of his petition that Regina Persistently lied on the following matters: (1) concealing the fact that she has an illegitimate son by introducing him as the adopted child of her family; (2) fabricating a story that her brother-in-law Willy, attempted to rape and kill her when no such incident really occurred; (3) misrepresenting herself to her obstetrician and some of her friends that she is a psychiatrist with a degree in psychology when she was not; (4) claiming that she is a free-lance singer affiliated with a popular recording company and postulating that a luncheon show was held in her honor by presenting an invitation to that effect when none of her family ever saw her sing and no such occasion was held as certified by the hotel director himself; (5) inventing friends named Bambi and Sylvia who sent her letters claiming that they are from the recording company and touting that she is the number one money maker worth P2 million; (6) representing herself as earning a lot of money and spending lavishly on unnecessary items that forced her to borrow money from other people; and (7) exhibiting insecurities and jealousies over Andy to the extent of calling up his officemates to monitor his whereabouts.

To support his Petition Andy also presented Dr. Santos a psychiatrist and Dr. Reyes a clinical psychologist who testified on Regina’s abnormal, introspective, shy and conservative behavior, persistently and constantly lying to Andy which undermined their basic relationship based on love trust and respect. The Doctors concluded that based on their tests, Regina is indeed psychologically incapacitated to perform her essential marital obligations.

In opposing the Petition, Regina testified and denied Andy’s claim that she is psychologically incapacitated. She argued that apart from her non-disclosure of a child prior to the marriage, the other lies attributed to her by Andy were mostly hearsay and unconvincing. She contended that the totality of the evidence presented is not sufficient for a finding of psychological incapacity on her part as testified to by a doctor whom she presented as a witness.

After trial, the lower court gave credence to Andy’s evidence and held that Regina’s propensity to lying about herself, the people around her, her occupation, income, educational attainment and other events and things had been duly established so that she is really psychologically incapacitated to perform the essential marital obligations. Thus, it declared their marriage null and void. Even before this decision, the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Manila annulled the Catholic Marriage of the couple for lack of due discretion on their part. This decision was upheld by the National Appellate Metropolitan Tribunal and the Roman Rota of the Vatican.

In his appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA) of the RTC decision, Andy pointed out these decisions of the Church Tribunals. But the CA still reversed the RTC judgment, declaring that the totality of the evidence presented was insufficient to establish that Regina’s psychological incapacity is medically or clinically permanent or incurable. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said that the CA is not correct. According to the SC. The evidence of psychological incapacity of a spouse for declaration of nullity of the marriage depends crucially on a case to case perception of the facts. The opinion of Canon Law experts in the interpretation of psychological incapacity must be given much weight because the concept of psychological incapacity originated from them. In fact Article 36 of the Family Code was enacted as a solution to the problem of marriages already annulled by the Catholic Church but still existent under civil law. It stands to reason therefore that interpretations given by the National Appellate Tribunal of the Catholic Church should be given great respect by the courts. Furthermore, the SC said that conclusions of the trial court regarding the credibility of witnesses are entitled to great respect from the appellate courts because the trial court had an opportunity to observe the demeanor of witnesses.

In this case, Andy has sufficiently proven the psychological incapacity of Regina. Aside from his testimony about her persistent lying; he also presented two expert witnesses from the field of psychology who testified that the aberrant behavior of Regina is tantamount to psychological incapacity at the time of and even before the celebration of marriage. Her inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality shows that she is also unable to comprehend the legal nature of the marital bond. Therefore her avowals as to her commitment to the marriage cannot be accorded much credence. Marriage, in legal contemplation, is more than the legitimization of a desire of people in love to live together (Antonio vs Reyes, G.R. 155800, March 10, 2006)

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