Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sexual infidelity or promiscuity does not constitute psychological incapacity

In the case of David B. Dedel Versus Court of Appeals And Sharon L. Corpuz-Dedel a.k.a. Jane Ibrahim decided in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that:

1. Sexual infidelity or promiscuity does not constitute psychological incapacity;

Emotional immaturity and irresponsibility cannot be equated with psychological incapacity.

The trial court does not have authority to dissolve a church marriage since that authority is exclusively lodged with the Ecclesiastical Court of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Court also clarified the differences between the grounds for declaration of nullity of marriage and for legal separation.

Facts of the case

1. Petitioner David B. Dedel (“David”) met respondent Sharon L. Corpuz Dedel (“Sharon”) while he was working in the advertising business of his father. The acquaintance led to courtship and romantic relations, culminating in the exchange of marital vows before the City Court of Pasay on September 28, 1966. The civil marriage was ratified in a church wedding on May 20, 1967.

The union produced four children, namely: Beverly Jane, born on September 18, 1968; Stephanie Janice born on September 9, 1969; Kenneth David born on April 24, 1971; and Ingrid born on October 20, 1976. The conjugal partnership, nonetheless, acquired neither property nor debt.

2. David alleged that during the marriage, Sharon turned out to be an irresponsible and immature wife and mother. She had extra-marital affairs with several men: a dentist in the Armed Forces of the Philippines; a Lieutenant in the Presidential Security Command and later a Jordanian national.

Sharon was once confirmed in the Manila Medical City for treatment by Dr. Lourdes Lapuz, a clinical psychiatrist. David alleged that despite the treatment, Sharon did not stop her illicit relationship with the Jordanian national named Mustafa Ibrahim, whom she married and with whom she had two children. However, when Mustafa Ibrahim left the country, Sharon returned to David bringing along her two children by Ibrahim. David accepted her back and even considered the two illegitimate children as his own. Thereafter, on December 9, 1995, Sharon abandoned David to join Ibrahim in Jordan with their two children. Since then, Sharon would only return to the country on special occasions.

3. Finally, giving up all hope of a reconciliation with Sharon, David filed on April 1, 1997 a petition seeking the declaration of nullity of his marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity, as defined in Article 36 of the Family Code, before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 149. Summons was effected by publication in the Pilipino Star Ngayon, a newspaper of general circulation in the country considering that Sharon did not reside and could not be found in the Philippines.

David presented Dr. Natividad A. Dayan, who testified that she conducted a psychological evaluation of petitioner and found him to be conscientious, hardworking, diligent, a perfectionist who wants all tasks and projects completed up to the final detail and who exerts his best in whatever he does.

On the other hand, Dr. Dayan declared that Sharon was suffering from Anti-Social Personality Disorder exhibited by her blatant display of infidelity; that she committed several indiscretions and had no capacity for remorse, even bringing with her the two children of Mustafa Ibrahim to live with petitioner. Such immaturity and irresponsibility in handling the marriage like her repeated acts of infidelity and abandonment of her family are indications of Anti-Social Personality Disorder amounting to psychological incapacity to perform the essential obligations of marriage.

4. After trial, the Makati City RTC granted the petition, declaring the civil and church marriages between David and Sharon celebrated on September 28, 1966 and May 20, 1967 null and void on the ground of psychological incapacity on Sharon’s part to perform the essential obligations of marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code

5. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. The CA set aside the judgment of the Makati City trial court and ordered the dismissal of the petition for declaration of nullity of marriage.

When his Motion for Reconsideration was denied, David then appealed to the Supreme Court. The SC upheld the decision of Court of Appeals by stating:

Sharon's sexual infidelity or perversion and abandonment do not by themselves constitute psychological incapacity within the contemplation of the Family Code. Neither could her emotional immaturity and irresponsibility be equated with psychological incapacity. It must be shown that these acts are manifestations of a disordered personality which make respondent completely unable to discharge the essential obligations of the marital state, not merely due to her youth, immaturity or sexual promiscuity.
Ruling of the Supreme Court (excerpts)

1. The main question for resolution is whether or not the totality of the evidence presented is enough to sustain a finding that respondent is psychologically incapacitated. More specifically, does the aberrant sexual behavior of respondent adverted to by petitioner fall within the term “psychological incapacity.”

2. “Psychological incapacity” should refer to no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly incognitive of the basic marital covenants that concomitantly must be assumed and discharged by the parties to the marriage which, as so expressed in Article 68 of the Family Code, include their mutual obligations to live together, observe love, respect and fidelity and render help and support.

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 of inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. This psychological condition must exist at the time the marriage is celebrated. The law does not evidently envision, upon the other hand, an inability of the spouse to have sexual relations with the other. This conclusion is implicit under Article 54 of the Family Code which considers children conceived prior to the judicial declaration of nullity of the void marriage to be legitimate.

3. The other forms of psychoses, if existing at the inception of marriage, like the state of a party being of unsound mind or concealment of drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, homosexuality or lesbianism, merely renders the marriage contract voidable pursuant to Article 46, Family Code.

If drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, lesbianism or homosexuality should occur only during the marriage, they become mere grounds for legal separation under Article 55 of the Family Code. These provisions, however, do not necessarily preclude the possibility of these various circumstances being themselves, depending on the degree and severity of the disorder, indicia of psychological incapacity.

4. Until further statutory and jurisprudential parameters are established, every circumstance that may have some bearing on the degree, extent and other conditions of that incapacity must, in every case, be carefully examined and evaluated so that no precipitate and indiscriminate nullity is peremptorily decreed. The well-considered opinion of psychiatrists, psychologists and persons with expertise in psychological disciplines might be helpful or even desirable.

The difficulty in resolving the problem lies in the fact that a personality disorder is a very complex and elusive phenomenon which defies easy analysis and definition. In this case, Sharon’s sexual infidelity can hardly qualify as being mentally or psychically ill to such an extent that she could not have known the obligations she was assuming, or knowing them, could not have given a valid assumption thereof. It appears that Sharon’s promiscuity did not exist prior to or at the inception of the marriage. What is, in fact, disclosed by the records is a blissful marital union at its celebration, later affirmed in church rites, and which produced four children.

6. At best, the circumstances relied upon by petitioner are grounds for legal separation under Article 55 of the Family Code. However, we pointed out in Marcos v. Marcos that Article 36 is not to be equated with legal separation in which the grounds need not be rooted in psychological incapacity but on physical violence, moral pressure, civil interdiction, drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity, abandonment and the like. In short, the evidence presented by David refers only to grounds for legal separation, not for declaring a marriage void.

7. We likewise agree with the Court of Appeals that the trial court has no jurisdiction to dissolve the church marriage of David and Sharon. The authority to do so is exclusively lodged with the Ecclesiastical Court of the Roman Catholic Church.

All told, we find no cogent reason to disturb the ruling of the appellate court. We cannot deny the grief, frustration and even desperation of David in his present situation. Regrettably, there are circumstances, like in this case, where neither law nor society can provide the specific answers to every individual problem. While we sympathize with David’s marital predicament, our first and foremost duty is to apply the law no matter how harsh it may be.