Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Amy Perez case: Psychological incapacity as a ground for declaring a marriage null and void

Summary:

[1] The Supreme Court denied actress Amy Perez’s petition to have her marriage to musician Brix Ferraris declared void on the basis of psychological incapacity.

[2] Amy’s expert witness, a psychologist, failed to prove that Brix was suffering from a psychological incapacity that rendered him unable to fulfill the essential marital obligations.

[3] “The term ‘psychological incapacity’ as used in Article 36 of the Family Code refers to a serious psychological illness afflicting a party even before the celebration of the marriage. It is a malady so grave and so permanent as to deprive a person of awareness of the duties and responsibilities of the matrimonial bond one is about to assume.”

[4] “A mere showing of irreconcilable differences and conflicting personalities in no wise constitute psychological incapacity; it is not enough to prove that the parties failed to meet their responsibilities and duties as married persons; it is essential that they must be shown to be incapable of doing so due to some psychological, not physical, illness.”

[5] “Habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity or perversion, and abandonment do not by themselves constitute grounds for declaring a marriage void based on psychological incapacity.”

More than a week ago, our early evening news cum entertainment shows on Channels 2 and 7 reported that the Supreme Court in its July 17, 2006 Resolution turned down with finality actress Amy Perez’s petition to have her marriage to musician Brix Ferraris declared void on the basis of psychological incapacity.

Reasons why the Supreme Court turned down Amy’s petition

[1] The Supreme Court found Brix’s alleged mixed personality disorder, the "leaving-the-house" attitude whenever he and Amy quarreled, the violent tendencies during epileptic attacks, the sexual infidelity, the abandonment and lack of support, and his preference to spend more time with his band mates than his family, are not rooted on some debilitating psychological condition but a mere refusal or unwillingness to assume the essential obligations of marriage.

[2] While Amy’s marriage with Brix 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. An unsatisfactory marriage, however, is not a null and void marriage. No less than the Constitution recognizes the sanctity of marriage and the unity of the family; it decrees marriage as legally “inviolable” and protects it from dissolution at the whim of the parties. Both the family and marriage are to be “protected” by the State.

If other movie stars had their marriage successfully declared void, what happened in Amy’s petition?

Pops Fernandez and Martin Nievera, Aiko Melendez and Jomari Yllana, Benjie Paras and Jackie Forster (?), Alma Moreno and Joey Marquez … these are just some of our entertainment personalities who had their marriages successfully declared void on the basis of “psychological incapacity” as provided for by Article 36 of our Family Code. So what happened to their fellow entertainer Amy Perez’s petition?

[1] Difference between “annulment” and “declaration of nullity”

The term “annulment” refers to voidable marriages while “declaration of nullity” refers to marriages that are void. When Article 36 (psychological incapacity) is used as the ground, the proper term is “declaration of nullity” and not “annulment.”

[2] The long road Amy’s petition went through

You can read the complete decision of Amy Perez’s case in the Supreme Court website. By way of review, however, let’s look at the long road Amy’s case went through before it finally reached the Supreme Court.
(1) According to the Court of Appeals narration of facts, Amy and Brix’s relationship before the marriage and even during their brief union (for well about a year or so) was not all bad. During that relatively short period of time, Amy was happy and contented with her life in the company of her husband. In fact, by Amy’s own reckoning, Brix was a responsible and loving husband. Then problems began when Amy started doubting Brix’s fidelity. It was only when they started fighting about the calls from women that Brix began to withdraw into his shell and corner, and failed to perform his so-called marital obligations. Brix could not understand Amy’s lack of trust in him and her constant naggings. He thought her suspicions irrational. Brix could not relate to her anger, temper and jealousy. Amy then filed a petition to have her marriage declared null and void on the basis of Brix’s psychological incapacity.

(2) Sometime in February 2001, the Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 151, with presiding Judge Franchito N. Diamante, denied Amy’s petition on the ground that “suffering from epilepsy did not amount to psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code and that the evidence on record were insufficient to prove infidelity.”

(3) The Pasig RTC denied Amy’s motion for reconsideration on or about April 2001.

(4) Amy filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals which eventually confirmed in whole the judgment of the Pasig City RTC.

(5) The Court of Appeals later on also denied Amy’s motion for reconsideration.

(6) Amy filed a Petition for Review of the CA’s decision with the Supreme Court, which on June 2004 denied the petition.

(7) The Supreme Court in its Resolution dated July 17, 2006 denied with finality Amy’s petition.

[3] Amy
’s psychologist failed to prove psychological incapacity

The adverse decisions of the Pasig City RTC and the Court of Appeals relied heavily on the failure of Amy’s expert witness (a psychologist) to establish that Brix Ferraris was suffering from a psychological incapacity that rendered him unable to fulfill the essential marital obligations.

The Supreme Court promulgated in March 2003 the new implementing guidelines for declaring a marriage null and void. The said guidelines no longer require the submission of a psychological report as part of the petition to be filed with the trial court. It depends upon the discretion of the Family Court judge as to whether a psychological report still has to be submitted. Lawyers, however, wanting to make sure the petition will be granted, are still asking their clients to submit to psychological evaluation and are submitting the report as part of their evidence.

The Supreme Court ruling in Amy’s petition

Enumerated below (without the citations, with some long sections broken down into several paragraphs for easier reading, and boldfacing for emphasis supplied) are the pertinent portions of the Supreme Court’s Resolution discussing what psychological incapacity is and is not.

[1] The term “psychological incapacity” under Article 36 of the Family Code refers to a serious psychological illness afflicting a party even before the celebration of the marriage. It is a malady so grave and so 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 characteristics associated with certain personality disorders, there is hardly any doubt that the intendment 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. It is for this reason that the Court relies heavily on psychological experts for its understanding of the human personality. However, the root cause must be identified as a psychological illness and its incapacitating nature must be fully explained which petitioner failed to convincingly demonstrate.

[2] The Court found Brix’s alleged mixed personality disorder, the "leaving-the-house" attitude whenever he and Amy quarreled, the violent tendencies during epileptic attacks, the sexual infidelity, the abandonment and lack of support, and his preference to spend more time with his band mates than his family, are not rooted on some debilitating psychological condition but a mere refusal or unwillingness to assume the essential obligations of marriage.

[3] In Republic v. Court of Appeals, where the respondent preferred to spend more time with his friends than his family on whom he squandered his money, depended on his parents for aid and assistance, and was dishonest to his wife regarding his finances, the Court held that the “psychological defects” spoken of were more of a “difficulty,” if not outright “refusal” or “neglect” in the performance of some marital obligations.

A mere showing of irreconcilable differences and conflicting personalities in no wise constitute psychological incapacity; it is not enough to prove that the parties failed to meet their responsibilities and duties as married persons; it is essential that they must be shown to be incapable of doing so due to some psychological, not physical, illness.

[4] The Court held in Hernandez v. Court of Appeals that habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity or perversion, and abandonment do not by themselves constitute grounds for declaring a marriage void based on psychological incapacity.

[5] While Amy’s marriage with Brix 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. An unsatisfactory marriage, however, is not a null and void marriage. No less than the Constitution recognizes the sanctity of marriage and the unity of the family; it decrees marriage as legally “inviolable” and protects it from dissolution at the whim of the parties. Both the family and marriage are to be “protected” by the State.

[6] In determining the import of “psychological incapacity” under Article 36, it must be read in conjunction with, although to be taken as distinct from Articles 35 (marriages void from the beginning), 37 (incestuous marriages), 38 (marriages void due to public policy) and 41 (declaration of presumptive death), which for different reasons render the marriage void ab initio.

Article 36 must also be read in conjunction with but taken as distinct from Articles 45 (voidable marriages) and 55 (grounds for legal separation).

Care must be observed so that these various circumstances are not applied so indiscriminately as if the law were indifferent on the matter. Article 36 should not be confused with a divorce law that cuts a matrimonial bond at the time the causes therefore manifest themselves. Neither it is to be equated with legal separation, in which the grounds need not be rooted in psychological incapacity but on physical violence, moral pressure, moral corruption, civil interdiction, drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity, abandonment and the like.

What happens now to Amy Perez and Brix Ferraris?

Since the Court has declared Brix Ferraris is not suffering from any psychological incapacity in fulfilling his essential marital obligations, Amy and Brix remain married to each other, despite presumably the total absence of love and affection between them. The facts and the conclusions of the Court have become what lawyers call "res judicata" between Amy and Brix. It is highly doubtful therefore that Amy or Brix himself could avail of the new relaxed rule on annulment of marriages promulgated by the Supreme Court in March 2003 in re-filing the case.

Again, as I have noted above, under the new Rule, the submission of a psychological report is no longer mandatory but is discretionary with the Family Court judge. However, lawyers are still asking petitioners to submit to psychological evaluation and are submitting the report as part of their evidence.