Divorce jurisprudence in the Philippines

Both Dacasin v. Dacasin (625 Phil. 494, 2010) and Van Dorn (223 Phil. 357, 1985) already recognized a foreign divorce decree that was initiated and obtained by the Filipino spouse and extended its legal effects on the issues of child custody and property relation, respectively.

In Dacasin, post-divorce, the former spouses executed an Agreement for the joint custody of their minor daughter. Later on, the husband, who is a US citizen, sued his Filipino wife to enforce the Agreement, alleging that it was only the latter who exercised sole custody of their child. The trial court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction, on the ground, among others, that the divorce decree is binding following the "nationality rule" prevailing in this jurisdiction. The husband moved to reconsider, arguing that the divorce decree obtained by his former wife is void, but it was denied. In ruling that the trial court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit but not to enforce the Agreement, which is void, this Court said:
Nor can petitioner rely on the divorce decree's alleged invalidity - not because the Illinois court lacked jurisdiction or that the divorce decree violated Illinois law, but because the divorce was obtained by his Filipino spouse - to support the Agreement's enforceability. The argument that foreigners in this jurisdiction are not bound by foreign divorce decrees is hardly novel. Van Dorn v. Romillo settled the matter by holding that an alien spouse of a Filipino is bound by a divorce decree obtained abroad. There, we dismissed the alien divorcee's Philippine suit for accounting of alleged post-divorce conjugal property and rejected his submission that the foreign divorce (obtained by the Filipino spouse) is not valid in this jurisdiction xxx.
Van Dorn was decided before the Family Code took into effect. There, a complaint was filed by the ex-husband, who is a US citizen, against his Filipino wife to render an accounting of a business that was alleged to be a conjugal property and to be declared with right to manage the same. Van Dorn moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the cause of action was barred by previous judgment in the divorce proceedings that she initiated, but the trial court denied the motion. On his part, her ex-husband averred that the divorce decree issued by the Nevada court could not prevail over the prohibitive laws of the Philippines and its declared national policy; that the acts and declaration of a foreign court cannot, especially if the same is contrary to public policy, divest Philippine courts of jurisdiction to entertain matters within its jurisdiction. In dismissing the case filed by the alien spouse, the Court discussed the effect of the foreign divorce on the parties and their conjugal property in the Philippines. Thus:
There can be no question as to the validity of that Nevada divorce in any of the States of the United States. The decree is binding on private respondent as an American citizen. For instance, private respondent cannot sue petitioner, as her husband, in any State of the Union. What he is contending in this case is that the divorce is not valid and binding in this jurisdiction, the same being contrary to local law and public policy.

It is true that owing to the nationality principle embodied in Article 15 of the Civil Code, only Philippine nationals are covered by the policy against absolute divorces the same being considered contrary to our concept of public policy and morality. However, aliens may obtain divorces abroad, which may be recognized in the Philippines, provided they are valid according to their national law. In this case, the divorce in Nevada released private respondent from the marriage from the standards of American law, under which divorce dissolves the marriage. As stated by the Federal Supreme Court of the United States in Atherton vs. Atherton, 45 L. Ed. 794, 799:
"The purpose and effect of a decree of divorce from the bond of matrimony by a court of competent jurisdiction are to change the existing status or domestic relation of husband and wife, and to free them both from the bond. The marriage tie, when thus severed as to one party, ceases to bind either. A husband without a wife, or a wife without a husband, is unknown to the law. When the law provides, in the nature of a penalty, that the guilty party shall not marry again, that party, as well as the other, is still absolutely freed from the bond of the former marriage."
Thus, pursuant to his national law, private respondent is no longer the husband of petitioner. He would have no standing to sue in the case below as petitioner's husband entitled to exercise control over conjugal assets. As he is bound by the Decision of his own country's Court, which validly exercised jurisdiction over him, and whose decision he does not repudiate, he is estopped by his own representation before said Court from asserting his right over the alleged conjugal property.

To maintain, as private respondent does, that, under our laws, petitioner has to be considered still married to private respondent and still subject to a wife's obligations under Article 109, et. seq. of the Civil Code cannot be just. Petitioner should not be obliged to live together with, observe respect and fidelity, and render support to private respondent. The latter should not continue to be one of her heirs with possible rights to conjugal property. She should not be discriminated against in her own country if the ends of justice are to be served.[31]
In addition, the fact that a validly obtained foreign divorce initiated by the Filipino spouse can be recognized and given legal effects in the Philippines is implied from Our rulings in Fujiki v. Marinay, et al. (712 Phil. 524, 555, 2013) and Medina v. Koike (G.R. No. 215723, July 27, 2016).

In Fujiki, the Filipino wife, with the help of her first husband, who is a Japanese national, was able to obtain a judgment from Japan's family court, which declared the marriage between her and her second husband, who is a Japanese national, void on the ground of bigamy. In resolving the issue of whether a husband or wife of a prior marriage can file a petition to recognize a foreign judgment nullifying the subsequent marriage between his or her spouse and a foreign citizen on the ground of bigamy, We ruled:
Fujiki has the personality to file a petition to recognize the Japanese Family Court judgment nullifying the marriage between Marinay and Maekara on the ground of bigamy because the judgment concerns his civil status as married to Marinay. For the same reason he has the personality to file a petition under Rule 108 to cancel the entry of marriage between Marinay and Maekara in the civil registry on the basis of the decree of the Japanese Family Court.

There is no doubt that the prior spouse has a personal and material interest in maintaining the integrity of the marriage he contracted and the property relations arising from it. There is also no doubt that he is interested in the cancellation of an entry of a bigamous marriage in the civil registry, which compromises the public record of his marriage. The interest derives from the substantive right of the spouse not only to preserve (or dissolve, in limited instances) his most intimate human relation, but also to protect his property interests that arise by operation of law the moment he contracts marriage. These property interests in marriage include the right to be supported "in keeping with the financial capacity of the family" and preserving the property regime of the marriage.

Property rights are already substantive rights protected by the Constitution, but a spouse's right in a marriage extends further to relational rights recognized under Title III ("Rights and Obligations between Husband and Wife") of the Family Code. xxx
On the other hand, in Medina, the Filipino wife and her Japanese husband jointly filed for divorce, which was granted. Subsequently, she filed a petition before the RTC for judicial recognition of foreign divorce and declaration of capacity to remarry pursuant to Paragraph 2 of Article 26. The RTC denied the petition on the ground that the foreign divorce decree and the national law of the alien spouse recognizing his capacity to obtain a divorce decree must be proven in accordance with Sections 24 and 25 of Rule 132 of the Revised Rules on Evidence. This Court agreed and ruled that, consistent with Corpuz v. Sto. Tomas, et al. (642 Phil. 420, 2010) and Garcia v. Recio (418 Phil. 723, 735-736, 2001), the divorce decree and the national law of the alien spouse must be proven. Instead of dismissing the case, We referred it to the CA for appropriate action including the reception of evidence to determine and resolve the pertinent factual issues.