8 guidelines in nullifying marriage for psychological incapacity

The case of Republic of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 108763, February 13, 1997) has set out the guidelines that has been the core of discussion of practically all declaration of nullity of marriage on the basis of psychological incapacity cases:

(1) The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff. Any doubt should be resolved in favor of the existence and continuation of the marriage and against its dissolution and nullity.
The default position is that marriage is valid. The 1987 Constitution requires this. Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State. (Section 2, Article XV)

(2) The root cause of the psychological incapacity must be: (a) medically or clinically identified, (b) alleged in the complaint, (c) sufficiently proven by experts and (d) clearly explained in the decision.

"Medically or clinically identified" refers to the findings and opinions of experts such as psychologists and psychiatrists. The two ends of the spectrum are: to disregard altogether the findings of experts or to tie the hands of the court so that such findings are treated as gospel truth. Both are undesirable options.

The best rule is what is called "totality of evidence," according to Marcos v. Marcos. (G.R. No. 136490, October 19, 2000) Psychological incapacity, as a ground for declaring the nullity of a marriage, may be established by the totality of evidence presented. There is no requirement, however, that the respondent should be examined by a physician or a psychologist as a condition sine qua non for such declaration. 

(3) The incapacity must be proven to be existing at "the time of the celebration" of the marriage.

This is what is called "juridical antecedence." It must be rooted in the history of the party antedating the marriage, although the overt manifestations may emerge only after the marriage. This is important because it renders the ailing party incapable of complying with marital obligations from inception of the marriage.

(4) Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable.

(5) Such illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage.

(6) The essential marital obligations must be those embraced by Articles 68 up to 71 of the Family Code as regards the husband and wife as well as Articles 220, 221 and 225 of the Family Code in regard to parents and their children.

(7) Interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal (NAMT) of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by our courts.

NOTE: It must be noted that guideline (7) has received criticisms from the legal community due to its seeming violation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. While it is true that the decisions says "not controlling or decisive," there is no sound and valid reason to limit this to the interpretations of the Catholic Church. To assure non-violation of the separation clause under the Constitution, either this guideline is removed altogether or the interpretations of any church, sect or religious group should be considered as well.

While it is true that NAMT guidelines informed the drafting of Article 36 of the Family Code, government rules and actions cannot be excessively dependent on religion or, most dangerously, a single religious organization.

(8) The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the state. No decision shall be handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification, which will be quoted in the decision, briefly stating therein his reasons for his agreement or opposition, as the case may be, to the petition.

Guideline #8 enables the State to interfere in any attempt to dissolve marriage. The dissolution of marriage is considered inimical to the interest of the State to protect the family. For such dissolution to be allowed, the parties must show compliance with the requirements of the law.

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