Monday, December 15, 2008

"Irreconcilable differences” not a ground for declaring a marriage null and void

In the United States, almost all states have what is known as “no-fault divorce law.” All that the petitioner has to do to get a divorce is to state that the spouses have irreconcilable differences. Here in the Philippines, our Supreme Court in Juanita Carating-Siayngco vs. Manuel Siyangco ruled that “irreconcilable differences” cannot be used as ground for declaring a marriage null and void under Article 36 (“psychological incapacity”) of the Family Code.

The facts of the case

[1] Petitioner Juanita Carating-Siayngco and respondent Manuel were married at civil rites on 27 June 1973 and before the Catholic Church on 11 August 1973. After discovering that they could not have a child of their own, the couple decided to adopt a baby boy in 1977, who they named Jeremy.

[2] On 25 September 1997, or after twenty-four (24) years of married life together, respondent Manuel filed for the declaration of its nullity on the ground of psychological incapacity of petitioner Juanita.

He alleged that all throughout their marriage, his wife exhibited an over domineering and selfish attitude towards him which was exacerbated by her extremely volatile and bellicose nature; that she incessantly complained about almost everything and anyone connected with him like his elderly parents, the staff in his office and anything not of her liking like the physical arrangement, tables, chairs, wastebaskets in his office and with other trivial matters; that she showed no respect or regard at all for the prestige and high position of his office as judge of the Municipal Trial Court; that she would yell and scream at him and throw objects around the house within the hearing of their neighbors; and that she cared even less about his professional advancement as she did not even give him moral support and encouragement.

[3] Manuel further alleged that Juanita’s psychological incapacity arose before marriage, rooted in her deep-seated resentment and vindictiveness for what she perceived as lack of love and appreciation from her own parents since childhood and that such incapacity is permanent and incurable and, even if treatment could be attempted, it will involve time and expense beyond the emotional and physical capacity of the parties; and that he endured and suffered through his turbulent and loveless marriage to her for twenty-two (22) years.

[4] In her Answer, petitioner Juanita alleged that respondent Manuel is still living with her at their conjugal home in Malolos, Bulacan; that he invented malicious stories against her so that he could be free to marry his paramour; that she is a loving wife and mother; that it was respondent Manuel who was remiss in his marital and family obligations; that she supported respondent Manuel in all his endeavors despite his philandering; that she was raised in a real happy family and had a happy childhood contrary to what was stated in the complaint.

[5] The Family Court denied Manuel’s petition declaration of nullity of his marriage to Juanita. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision and granted Manuel’s petition. The Supreme Court however reversed the CA and held that:

“We are not downplaying the frustration and misery respondent Manuel might be experiencing in being shackled, so to speak, to a marriage that is no longer working. Regrettably, there are situations like this one, where neither law nor society can provide the specific answers to every individual problem.”
The Supreme Court ruling (excerpts)

[1] From the totality of the evidence adduced by both parties, we have been allowed a window into the Siayngco’s life and have perceived therefrom a simple case of a married couple drifting apart, becoming strangers to each other, with the husband consequently falling out of love and wanting a way out.An unsatisfactory marriage, however, is not a null and void marriage. Mere showing of “irreconcilable differences” and “conflicting personalities” in no wise constitutes psychological incapacity. As we stated in Marcos v. Marcos:

Article 36 of the Family Code, we stress, is not to be confused with a divorce law that cuts the marital bond at the time the causes therefore manifests themselves. It 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.

We are not downplaying the frustration and misery respondent Manuel might be experiencing in being shackled, so to speak, to a marriage that is no longer working. Regrettably, there are situations like this one, where neither law nor society can provide the specific answers to every individual problem.

[2] Whether or not psychological incapacity exists in a given case calling for the declaration of the nullity of the marriage depends crucially on the facts of the case.

[3] The burden of proof to show the nullity of 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. This is rooted in the fact that both our Constitution and our laws cherish the validity of marriage and unity of the family.

[4] 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 trial court’s decision.

Such illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage. Thus, “mild characteriological peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts” cannot be accepted as root causes. The illness must be shown as downright incapacity or inability, not a refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will.

All’s well that ends well

October and November, I attended four Saturdays of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education seminars sponsored by the IBP CALMANA. One of the MCLE lecturers, Judge Marissa Guillen of Makati City, informed the seminar participants that the parties in this case (Manuel and Juanita) have reconciled and are now a totally devoted couple. Amor omnia vincit!

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