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Opinion

Useless proceedings

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

This is a case about a foreign divorce obtained by the husband who is a foreigner married to a Filipina. Under Article 26 of the Family Code (FC), if said divorce is validly obtained abroad capacitating the alien husband to marry again, the Filipino spouse shall likewise have the capacity to remarry under Philippine law. But the Filipino spouse must file a petition in court for the recognition of such foreign divorce and prove the foreign judgment of divorce as a fact. This is what the Filipina spouse did in this case but her petition was still dismissed. Let us find out why. This is the case of Joanne.

About six years ago, Joanne married Ralph, a Norwegian national, in Norway per the Report of Marriage issued by the Philippine embassy in Oslo. The spouses lived in Norway for two years and then separated due to marital problems. Ralph obtained a divorce decree against Joanne pursuant to the Norwegian Marriage Act and a Final Decree of Divorce was issued a year later by the Country Governor of Oslo, duly authenticated by the vice consul of the Philippine embassy.

Thereafter, about six months later when Joanne returned to her native province, she filed a verified Petition for Recognition of Foreign Judgment of Divorce in the Regional Trial Court of her province, praying the RTC to order the Office of the Civil Registrar General and/or the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to annotate the Divorce Decree on the Report of Marriage. She attached in her Petition: (1) the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) copy of the Report of Marriage between her and Ralph; (2) original copy of the Decree of Divorce with translation duly authenticated by the vice consul of the Philippine embassy in Oslo, Norway; and (3) duly authenticated copy of the Norwegian Marriage Act No. 47 Relating to Marriage.

After declaring the petition sufficient in form and substance, the RTC ordered Joanne to furnish a copy of the petition to the Office of the Civil Registrar General (OCRG), Provincial Prosecutor of the province and the PSA. Then after the petition was duly published in a newspaper of general circulation and posted in the provincial capitol and bulletin board of the RTC in compliance with the jurisdictional requirements, Joanne presented evidence in support of her petition and formally offered them, which the RTC admitted. The State, the PSA and the OCRG did not present any evidence and did not make any objections to the petition. Hence the case was submitted for decision.

But after almost two years of considering the petition, the RTC nevertheless dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. The RTC ruled that the petition should have been filed in the place where the record may be found or in the place where the OCRG and DFA holds office. The RTC ruled that Joanne not only prayed for the recognition of the foreign judgment but also for correction of entry in the civil registry, so the petition becomes a special proceeding where the venue is jurisdictional in nature.

Joanne questioned this ruling before the Supreme Court (SC), contending that the RTC is wrong for declaring that it has no jurisdiction after it has ruled on the sufficiency of the form and substance of the petition and admitted all the evidence which proved compliance with the jurisdictional requirements without any opposition from the State on either the petition or the venue. She contended that venue is procedural not jurisdictional.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the RTC is correct in dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction. The SC declared that it is undisputed that the petition filed in the RTC sought two reliefs: (1) recognition of foreign decree of divorce and the corresponding (2) correction or change of entry in the civil registry. Hence Joanne must not only establish the foreign judgment as a fact but must also comply with Rule 108 of the Rules of Court that the verified petition for the cancellation or correction of entry in the civil register must be filed with the Court of First Instance where the corresponding civil registry is located. Joanne failed to do this.

The report of marriage in this case is found either in the DFA or the OCRG that is in Pasay City or in Quezon City, respectively. So pursuant to rule 108, the petition must be filed in the RTC where the corresponding civil registry is located. However, Joanne filed the petition in the RTC of the province where she is residing because it is convenient for her. Thus, venue is improperly laid. Furthermore, the local civil registrar of Pasay where the DFA is located and where the Report of Marriage has been filed was not impleaded. The RTC of Joanne’s province has no authority to order the civil registrar of Pasay or Quezon City to correct the civil status of Joanne. Hence, the RTC of Joanne’s province did not err in dismissing her petition for lack of jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, the dismissal is without prejudice to the refiling of the petition in the proper court after ascertaining where her Report of Marriage was recorded (Hoansen vs. Office of the Civil Registrar General, Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Statistics Authority and Office of the Solicitor General, G.R. 256951, Nov. 29, 2021).

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