(A Reaction paper on Psychological Incapacity as a ground for annulment of marriage)

The tag line that the Court “relaxed” the rules is an overstatement because in respect, there is no relaxation of the rules regarding psychological incapacity as a ground for annulment of marriage. It is not correct to say that relaxed is the opposite of rigid. Rigid means not willing to change opinions or behavior while relax is more of mellowing or carefully controlled. In fact, the case of Kalaw did not abandon the Molina doctrine but reiterates its guidelines and remain consistent with the past principles of many annulment jurisprudence.

Every nation in the world has divorce laws except the Philippines. In legally “breaking-up” the bond between a husband and a wife, our law provides grounds for annulment of marriage. Annulment is different from divorce since the former is a legal procedure for declaring a void or voidable marriage null and void while the latter is the termination or cancellation of a marital union.

Psychological incapacity is the most commonly used ground for annulment. As Article 36 of the Family Code provides,  “a marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”

Several jurisprudence explicate that this ground must be taken in proper context and should not be equated with insanity or mental inability. Psychological incapacity contemplates downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and to assume the basic marital obligations; not a mere refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less, ill will, on the part of the errant spouse. Irreconcilable differences, conflicting personalities, emotional immaturity and irresponsibility, physical abuse, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity or perversion, and abandonment, by themselves, also do not warrant a finding of psychological incapacity.

The law does not exactly define what psychological incapacity is and therefore, it should be determine based on a case-to-case basis. Because of this, it has become one of the most controversial provisions of the Family Code.

In 1997, the Molina doctrine laid down the eight guidelines that must be present in order for the Court to declare a nullity of marriage. Some of these guidelines are, “the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, that the root cause of the incapacity must be medically or clinically established and alleged in the complaint, that the incapacity must exist at the time of the marriage even as it may have manifested after, that it must be permanent or incurable, and that it must be grave enough to disable the partner to assume the essential obligations.”

In the case of Santos v. Court of Appeals, which was decided on 2011, the Court first declared that psychological incapacity must be characterized by (a) gravity; (b) juridical antecedence; and (c) incurability.

However, in January 2015, the Supreme Court’s decision on Kalaw vs. Fernandez “shaked” the guidelines established by the Molina doctrine. Many people were appalled by the latest ruling penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin. It reversed the 2011 decision by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo which denied, for lack of merit, the petition for nullity and declared the marriage between Valerio Kalaw and Maria Elena Fernandez null and void.

kalaw vs. fernandez

The High Court admitted that the set of guidelines were too rigid, adding that the Family Code’s provision on psychological incapacity should instead not be “so strictly and too literally” applied.

The case started when the petitioner filed a case to nullify his marriage because his wife neglected her parental duties due to mahjong. During the trial, it was found out that his wife also manifested a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The Court expressed fears that a strict implementation of the rules on psychological incapacity would allow diagnosed sociopaths, schizophrenics, narcissists, among others, to stay married.

The Supreme Court also cleared that it is not the frequency of the mahjong sessions but it is the fact that the wife should “have known that bringing her children of very tender ages along to her mahjong sessions would expose them to a culture of gambling and other vices that would erode their moral fiber.”

The tag line that the Court “relaxed” the rules is an overstatement because in respect, there is no relaxation of the rules regarding psychological incapacity as a ground for annulment of marriage. It is not correct to say that relaxed is the opposite of rigid. Rigid means not willing to change opinions or behavior while relax is more of mellowing or carefully controlled. In fact, the case of Kalaw did not abandon the Molina doctrine but reiterates its guidelines and remain consistent with the past principles of many annulment jurisprudence. That is, “every court should approach the issue of nullity not on the basis of a priori assumptions, predilections or generalizations, but according to its own fact in recognition of the verity that no case would be on ‘all fours’ with the next one in the field of psychological incapacity as a ground for the nullity of marriage; hence, every trial judge must take pains in examining the factual milieu and the appellate court must, as much as possible, avoid substituting its own judgment for that of the trial court.”

Did the High Court abandoned the protection of the sanctity of marriage?

No, the Supreme Court clarified that by relaxing the rules, it was “not demolishing the foundation of families but is actually protecting the sanctity of marriage, because it refuses to allow a person afflicted with a psychological disorder, who cannot comply with or assume the essential marital obligations from remaining in that sacred bond.”

Sources:

Kalaw vs. Fernandez

Republic vs. Molina

Santos vs. CA

Persons and Family Relations Law Book by Sta. Maria

©2015 nerak17.inc

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