Presumed co-owners

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2021 - 12:00am

Under Article 147 of the Family Code which is actually a remake of Article 144 of the 1950 Civil Code, when a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusively with each other as husband and wife under a void marriage, their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and the property acquired by both of them through their work or industry shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership. Properties acquired while they lived together shall be presumed to have been obtained by their joint efforts, work or industry and shall be owned by them in equal shares. For this purpose, a party who did not participate in the acquisition of any property by the other party shall be deemed to have contributed in the acquisition thereof if the former’s efforts consisted in the care and maintenance of the family and of the household. This is the law applied and explained in this case of Ramon and Nida.

Ramon and Nida married each other and begot three minor children, Betty, Naty and Rita. After living together for about a decade, Ramon left the family abode. Two years after their separation, Ramon filed a petition before the Regional Trial Court of the City where they lived (RTC, Branch 144 ) seeking the declaration of nullity of their marriage on the ground of Nida’s psychological incapacity. This was granted by the RTC after five years of trial, where both Ramon and Nida were adjudged to be psychologically incapacitated to fulfill their marital obligation to each other. This decision has attained finality but the proceedings for the liquidation, partition, distribution of the common properties and the delivery of their children’s presumptive legitimes remain pending before RTC Br. 144.

Subsequently, however, said proceeding was re-raffled to another RTC Br. 136 where Nida filed an Omnibus Motion for appraisal of the co-owned properties, particularly a house and lot in an exclusive village, a condominium unit in a business district, club membership at a golf and country club, shares of stock in two realty companies, family car, paintings of known artists, pieces of furniture and collection of books. Despite Ramon’s objection as to their being co-owned, particularly the house and lot and the condo unit which he claimed were mortgaged and which he said were being paid by him from his exclusive funds after their separation in fact, the RTC Br. 136 still granted Nida’s motion and ruled that the enumerated properties were presumed conjugal since Ramon failed to prove that said properties belonged to him exclusively, Thus the RTC deemed it proper to advance Nida’s share in said properties upon posting P50,000 bond. It also increased the monthly support from P175,000 to P250,000, taking into consideration the health condition of Naty and the standard of living that the children have been accustomed to and the financial resources of Ramon.

Upon petition of Ramon, the CA ruled that the issues he raised and decided by the RTC against him were mere errors of judgment, and not errors of jurisdiction. So, it upheld the RTC ruling. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court said that the CA committed a reversible error. According to the SC, considering that the marriage of Ramon and Nida had already been declared an absolute nullity by reason of their psychological incapacity to perform their marital obligation to each other, their property relation is governed by Article 147 of the Family Code. This Article is applicable in this case because it is just a remake of Article 144 of the 1950 Civil Code which was the law in effect at the time of their marriage. But Article 147 applies only to properties acquired by the parties during the period of cohabitation. The term “acquired” refers to the properties purchased, whether on installment, financing or other mode of payment, during the period of co-habitation. In this case, therefore, the house and lot and the condo unit which were purchased while they were still living together are owned by Ramon and Nida in equal shares because of the disputable presumption that they have been obtained by their joint efforts, work and industry. However, equal sharing of the entire properties is not possible here because the house and lot and the condo unit were still being amortized when the parties separated. As such Nida’s share shall pertain to the paid portion before their separation, because the partnership is considered terminated upon their separation and there is no more family or household to speak of. Nida must prove her allegation that the amortizations of these properties were taken from the common fund.

On the other hand, the obligation of mutual support between the spouses ceases when a judgment declaring the marriage void becomes final and executory (Article 198 FC). So, since the parties’ marriage here has already been declared void, Ramon was only obliged to support their three children after such date. And if Ramon proves his allegation that the two of the three daughters have already attained the age of majority, Nida ceases to have the right to claim support in their behalf. And since the filing of this petition, the youngest daughter had likewise reached the age of majority, Ramon can no longer be obliged to pay P250,000 to Nida.  Ramon is not precluded from seeking a reduction of the amount of support since judgment of support does not become final.

The SC therefore ruled that since it is not a trier of facts, the case must be remanded to the lower court for accounting, reception of evidence and evaluation thereof and the proper determination of ownership and share of the subject properties. The CA ruling is therefore reversed and set aside (Paterno vs. Paterno, G.R. 213687, Jan. 8, 2020).

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