The story of a flirty wife; SC: 'Marriage still valid'

This is the story of Nilda V. Navales and Reynaldo Navales in the case of Navales v. Navales (G.R. No. 167523, June 27, 2008, 578 Phil. 826).

Reynaldo Navales (Reynaldo) and Nilda Navales (Nilda) met in 1986 in a local bar where Nilda worked as a waitress. The two became lovers and Nilda quit her job, managed a boarding house owned by her uncle and studied Health Aide financed by Reynaldo. Upon learning that Nilda's uncle was prodding her to marry an American, Reynaldo, not wanting to lose her, asked her to marry him. This, despite his knowledge that Nilda was writing her penpals and was asking money from them and that she had an illegitimate son by a man whose identity she did not reveal to him. The two got married on December 29, 1988, before the Municipal Trial Court Judge of San Fernando, Cebu.

Reynaldo claims that during the first year of their marriage, their relationship went well. Problems arose, however, when Nilda started selling RTWs and cosmetics, since she could no longer take care of him and attend to household chores. Things worsened when she started working as an aerobics instructor at the YMCA, where, according to Reynaldo, Nilda's flirtatiousness and promiscuity recurred. She wore tight-fitting outfits, allowed male clients to touch her body, and introduced herself as single. Reynaldo received phone calls from different men looking for Nilda. There was also a time when Nilda chose to ride with another man instead of Reynaldo; and another when Nilda went home late, riding in the car of the man who kissed her. Reynaldo also claims that Nilda refused to have a child with him, as it would destroy her figure. On June 18, 1992, Reynaldo left Nilda and never reconciled with her again.

On August 30, 1999, Reynaldo filed a Petition for Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Marriage and Damages before the RTC, Toledo City, Cebu, docketed as Civil Case No. T-799 claiming that his marriage with Nilda did not cure Nilda's flirtatiousness and sexual promiscuity, and that her behavior indicates her lack of understanding and appreciation of the meaning of marriage, rendering the same void under Article 36 of the Family Code.

Reynaldo testified in support of his petition and presented telephone directories showing that Nilda used her maiden name "Bacon" instead of "Navales." Reynaldo also presented Josefino Ramos, who testified that he was with Reynaldo when Reynaldo first met Nilda at the bar called "Appetizer," and that he (Ramos) himself was attracted to Nilda since she was sexy, beautiful, and jolly to talk with. Reynaldo also presented Violeta Abales, his cousin, who testified that she was a vendor at the YMCA where Nilda worked and was known by her maiden name; that she knows Nilda is sexy and wears tight fitting clothes; that her companions are mostly males and she flirts with them; and that there was one time that Reynaldo fetched Nilda at YMCA but Nilda went with another man, which angered Reynaldo.

Finally, Reynaldo presented Leticia Vatanagul, a Clinical Psychologist and Social Worker who drafted a Psychological Assessment of Marriage dated March 28, 2001. In said Assessment, Vatanagul concluded that Nilda is a nymphomaniac, who has a borderline personality, a social deviant, an alcoholic, and suffering from anti-social personality disorder, among others, which illnesses are incurable and are the causes of Nilda's psychological incapacity to perform her marital role as wife to Reynaldo.

Nilda, for her part, claims that Reynaldo knew that she had a child before she met him, yet Reynaldo continued courting her; thus, their eventual marriage. She claims that it was actually Reynaldo who was linked with several women, who went home very late, kept his earnings for himself, and subjected her to physical harm whenever she called his attention to his vices. She worked at the YMCA to cope with the needs of life, and she taught only female students. Reynaldo abandoned her for other women, the latest of whom was Liberty Lim whom she charged, together with Reynaldo, with concubinage. Nilda presented a certification from the YMCA dated October 17, 2001 stating that she was an aerobics instructress for a program that was exclusively for ladies, as well as a statement of accounts from PLDT showing that she used her married name, Nilda B. Navales.

Psychological incapacity, in order to be a ground for the nullity of marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code, refers to a serious psychological illness afflicting a party even before the celebration of marriage. It is a malady that is so grave and permanent as to deprive one of awareness of the duties and responsibilities of the matrimonial bond one is about to assume. As all people may have certain quirks and idiosyncrasies, or isolated traits associated with certain personality disorders, there is hardly any doubt that the intention of the law has been to confine the meaning of psychological incapacity to the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage.

In this case, Reynaldo and his witnesses sought to establish that Nilda was a flirt before the marriage, which flirtatiousness recurred when she started working as an aerobics instructress. The instances alleged by Reynaldo, i.e., the occasion when Nilda chose to ride home with another man instead of him, that he saw Nilda being kissed by another man while in a car, and that Nilda allowed other men to touch her body, if true, would understandably hurt and embarrass him. Still, these acts by themselves are insufficient to establish a psychological or mental defect that is serious, incurable or grave as contemplated by Article 36 of the Family Code.

Article 36 contemplates downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and to assume basic marital obligations. Mere "difficulty," "refusal" or "neglect" in the performance of marital obligations or "ill will" on the part of the spouse is different from "incapacity" rooted on some debilitating psychological condition or illness. Indeed, irreconcilable differences, sexual infidelity or perversion, emotional immaturity and irresponsibility, and the like, do not by themselves warrant a finding of psychological incapacity under Article 36, as the same may only be due to a person's refusal or unwillingness to assume the essential obligations of marriage and not due to some psychological illness that is contemplated by said rule.

As admitted by Reynaldo, his marriage with Nilda was not all that bad; in fact, it went well in the first year of their marriage. As in other cases, an admission of a good and harmonious relationship during the early part of the marriage weakens the assertion of psychological defect existing at the time of the celebration of the marriage which deprived the party of the ability to assume the essential duties of marriage and its concomitant responsibilities.

Reynaldo presented telephone directories in which Nilda used her maiden name "Bacon" to prove that Nilda represented herself as single. As noted by the CA, however, the telephone listings presented by Reynaldo were for the years 1993 to 1995, after Reynaldo admittedly left Nilda on June 18, 1992. Apart from Reynaldo and Abalales's testimony, therefore, Reynaldo has no proof that Nilda represented herself as single while they were still living ogether. The Court cannot agree with the RTC, therefore, that said telephone listings show that Nilda represented herself to be single, which in turn manifests her lack of understanding of the consequences of marriage.

Reynaldo also presented Clinical Psychologist Vatanagul to bolster his claim that Nilda is psychologically incapacitated. While it is true that the Court relies heavily on psychological experts for its understanding of the human personality, and that there is no requirement that the defendant spouse be personally examined by a physician or psychologist before the nullity of marriage based on psychological incapacity may be declared, still, the root cause of the psychological incapacity must be identified as a psychological illness, its incapacitating nature fully explained, and said incapacity established by the totality of the evidence presented during trial.

The Supreme Court found that the psychological report presented in this case is insufficient to establish Nilda's psychological incapacity. In her report, Vatanagul concluded that Nilda is a nymphomaniac, an emotionally immature individual, has a borderline personality, has strong sexual urges which are incurable, has complete denial of her actual role as a wife, has a very weak conscience or superego, emotionally immature, a social deviant, not a good wife as seen in her infidelity on several occasions, an alcoholic, suffers from anti-social personality disorder, fails to conform to social norms, deceitful, impulsive, irritable and aggresive, irresponsible and vain. She further defined "nymphomia" as a psychiatric disorder that involves a disturbance in motor behavior as shown by her sexual relationship with various men other than her husband.

The report failed to specify, however, the names of the men Nilda had sexual relationship with or the circumstances surrounding the same. As pointed out by Nilda, there is not even a single proof that she was ever involved in an illicit relationship with a man other than her husband. Vatanagul claims, during her testimony, that in coming out with the report, she interviewed not only Reynaldo but also Jojo Caballes, Dorothy and Lesley who were Reynaldo's sister-in-law and sister, respectively, a certain Marvin and a certain Susan. Vatanagul however, did not specify the identities of these persons, which information were supplied by whom, and how they came upon their respective informations. Indeed, the conclusions drawn by the report are vague, sweeping and lack sufficient factual bases. As the report lacked specificity, it failed to show the root cause of Nilda's psychological incapacity; and failed to demonstrate that there was a "natal or supervening disabling factor" or an "adverse integral element" in Nilda's character that effectively incapacitated her from accepting, and thereby complying with, the essential marital obligations, and that her psychological or mental malady existed even before the marriage. Hence, the Court cannot give weight to said assessment.

The standards used by the Supreme Court in assessing the sufficiency of psychological reports may be deemed very strict, but that is only proper in view of the principle that any doubt should be resolved in favor of the validity of the marriage and the indissolubility of the marital vinculum.

While Reynaldo and Nilda's marriage failed and appears to be without hope of reconciliation, the remedy, however, is not always to have it declared void ab initio on the ground of psychological incapacity. A marriage, no matter how unsatisfactory, is not a null and void marriage. And this Court, even as the highest one, can only apply the letter and spirit of the law, no matter how harsh it may be.