Can There Be Bigamy If The First Marriage Is Void?
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Can there be Bigamy if the first marriage is void? In this article, we shall answer it. One of the illegal marriages being penalized under the Revised Penal Code is the crime of Bigamy. Under Article 349 of the RPC, it is an act of contracting a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings

The elements of the crime bigamy are as follows:

  1. That the perpetrator is legally married
  2. That the marriage has not been dissolved or, if the spouse is absent, that the absent spouse cannot be presumed dead under the Civil Code.
  3. That he enters into a second or subsequent marriage
  4. That the second or subsequent marriage meets all of the legal requirements.

In bigamy, both the first and second spouses can file the case as offended parties provided that second spouse married the accused without knowledge of his previous marriage. Otherwise, if the second spouse had knowledge of the previous undissolved marriage of the accused, that is the instance wherein she can be included in the information as a co-accused for being an accomplice of the crime charged.

To be charged with such a crime is not to be taken lightly for the law imposes a punishment of prison mayor thereby ranging from 6 years and 1 day to 12 years.

Nullity of marriage as a defense

In old rulings, it is well-settled that the nullity of first marriage which is void from the beginning is not a defense in a bigamy charge. As also with a voidable marriage, there must be a judicial declaration of the nullity of a marriage before contracting a second or subsequent marriage. This is in consonance with Article 40 of the Family Code of the Philippines which states that

“The absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.”[1]Article 40 of the Family Code of the Philippines

The intention was for the parties to a marriage not to assume that their marriage is void, and if given that such is true, they are still required to secure first a judicial declaration of nullity of their marriage before remarrying.  Hence, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in a long line jurisprudence the following:

(1) There is a need for a judicial declaration of the fact that the marriage of a person is void before that person can marry again; otherwise, the second marriage will be void. [2]Wiegel vs. Sempio-Diy, G.R. No. L-53703 August 19, 1986, 143 SCRA 499

(2) The subsequent judicial declaration of the nullity of the first marriage was immaterial because prior to the declaration of nullity, the crime had already been consummated.

(3) When the accused files a petition to declare his previous marriage void and invoke the pendency of that action as a prejudicial question in the criminal case, such is untenable. [3]Mercado vs. Tan. G.R. No. 137110, 1 August 2000, 337 SCRA 122, 133

Applying the foregoing, the only valid defense recognized by the Supreme Court is a judicial declaration of absolute nullity of the first marriage obtained by the accused prior to the celebration of the second marriage. As a result, anyone who enters into a second marriage prior to the judicial declaration of nullity of the first marriage runs the risk of being prosecuted for bigamy.

Abandonment of previous doctrine

These rulings were abandoned in the case Pulido vs. People of the Philippines.[4]G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021 In this case, the accused can validly interpose a void ab initio marriage as a defense for a crime charged of bigamy even without a judicial declaration of absolute nullity provided under Article 40 of The Family Code.

Hence, an accused in a bigamy case is thereby allowed to raise the defense of a prior void ab initio marriage through competent evidence such as testimonial or documentary, other than the judicial decree of nullity.

The facts of the case as follow:

Pulido and Arcon married for the first time on September 5, 1983, and had a child the following year. They were together until 2007, when Pulido stopped visiting their marital home. When confronted by Arcon, she discovered Pulido’s affair with Baleda and their second marriage.

Pulido and Baleda got married on July 31, 1995. They were charged with Bigamy before the RTC on these grounds for having entered into a second marriage. If Pulido was single and unmarried, his marriage with Baleda would have met all of the requirements for a valid one.

However, at the time of Pulido’s marriage to Baleda, his matrimonial ties with the complainant, Arcon, was still in effect and had not been legally dissolved. Petitioner then pleaded not guilty to the crime charged, claiming that both marriages were null and void because of lack of a valid marriage license in the first case and a marriage ceremony in the second.

Baleda, on the other hand, claimed that she was only made aware of Pulido’s previous marriage to Arcon in April 2007. She claimed that prior to the filing of the bigamy case, she filed a Petition to Annul her marriage with Pulido, and that the RTC declared the same null and void for being bigamous in nature. Such decision became final and executory, as no appeal thereto was filed.

Rulings in the case as follow:

Is a judicial declaration of nullity of marriage necessary to establish the invalidity of a void ab initio marriage in a bigamy prosecution?

The Court held that a void ab initio marriage can be raised as a defense in a bigamy case even without a judicial declaration of its nullity. Thus, when both the prior and subsequent marriages were contracted, a void ab initio marriage can be raised as a defense in a bigamy case even without a judicial declaration of its nullity. Nonetheless, the Court recognized that an action for nullity of the second marriage is a prejudicial question to the criminal prosecution for bigamy.[5]Supra., G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021

It further held that Article 40 of the Family Code applies retroactively on marriages celebrated before the Family Code insofar as it does not prejudice or impair vested or acquired rights. Thus, a judicial declaration of nullity is required for prior marriages contracted before the effectiveness of the Family Code but only for purposes of remarriage.[6]Ibid.

Time element

Pulido’s marriage to Arcon took place when the Civil Code was in effect, whereas his subsequent marriage to Baleda took place when the Family Code was in effect.

As a result, Pulido must obtain a judicial decree declaring his prior void ab initio marriage to be absolute null and void, but only for the purpose of remarriage. In the case of bigamy, however, Pulido may raise the defense of a void ab initio marriage even if a judicial declaration of absolute nullity is not obtained.

Following careful consideration, the Court reversed its previous rulings that a judicial declaration of absolute nullity of the first and/or second marriages could not be used as a defense by the accused in a criminal prosecution for bigamy.

It held that in a bigamy case, a judicial declaration of absolute nullity is not required to prove a void ab initio prior and subsequent marriages. As a result, a judicial declaration of absolute nullity of the accused’s first and/or second marriages presented in the prosecution for bigamy is a valid defense, regardless of the time frame in which they are secured.

Rationale of the Supreme Court with the New Ruling

The Supreme court stressed out that the nullity of a void ab initio marriage, being inexistent under the eyes of the law can be maintained in any proceeding in which the fact of marriage may be material, either direct or collateral, in any civil court between parties at any time, whether before or after death of either or both the spouses. A void marriage is ipso facto void without need of any judicial declaration of nullity.[7]Ibid.

Consequently, the parties are not required to obtain a judicial declaration of absolute nullity of a void ab initio first and subsequent marriages in order to raise it as a defense in a bigamy case. The same rule now applies to all marriages celebrated under the Civil Code and the Family Code. Article 40 of the Family Code did not amend Article 349 of the RPC, and thus, did not deny the accused the right to collaterally attack the validity of a void ab initio marriage in the criminal prosecution for bigamy.[8]Ibid.

The aforesaid conclusion is anchored on and justified by retroactive effects of a void ab initio marriage, the purpose of and legislative intent behind Article 40 of the Family Code, and the rule on statutory construction of penal laws. Therefore, the absence of a “prior valid marriage” and the subsequent judicial declaration of absolute nullity of his first marriage, Pulido is hereby acquitted from the crime of Bigamy charged against him.[9]Ibid.

Limitation imposed by the Supreme Court with the New Ruling

However, if the first marriage is only voidable, the accused cannot use an annulment decree as a defense in a criminal prosecution for bigamy because the voidable first marriage was still valid and existing when the second marriage was contracted. Bigamy is thus committed when the second marriage is celebrated during the duration of the voidable first marriage. If the second marriage is simply deemed voidable, the same rule applies.

Retroactive application of the New Ruling

An accused who had been convicted of bigamy notwithstanding a judicial declaration of nullity of his marriage may invoke the new ruling under the retroactive effect of penal laws which are favorable to the accused. Article 22 of the RPC provides:[10]Ibid.

Art. 22. Retroactive effect of penal laws. Penal laws shall have a retroactive effect insofar as they favor the person guilty of a felony, who is not a habitual criminal, as this term is defined in Rule 5 of Article 62 of this Code, although at the time of the publication of such laws a final sentence has been pronounced and the convict is serving the same.[11]Article 22, Revised Penal Code

This is an exception to the prospective application of penal laws, which gives retroactive effect when favorable to the accused.[12]Supra. Applying this, judicial decisions favorable to an accused should be given retroactive effect because they are part of the law under Article 8 of the Civil Code and do not violate the accused’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law. As a result, the accused may file a petition for habeas corpus to be released from prison.

Final Thoughts

The preceding decisions were founded on the legislative objective of Article 40 of the Philippine Family Code. Marriage is defined in the Family Code as “a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life,” and it is referred to as a “inviolable social institution” that “shall be protected by the State” as the foundation of the family in the Constitution.[13]Article 1, Family Code of the Philippines

Marriage and the family are so important to the country’s stability and peace that their “nature, consequences, and incidents are governed by law and not subject to stipulation.”[14]Id. As a matter of policy, nullifying a marriage for the purpose of entering into another cannot be accomplished solely on the basis of both parties’ or one party’s perception that their union is so deficient in terms of the essential requisites of a marriage contract.

If this were to happen, this inviolable social institution would become a laughingstock, with very shaky foundations. And there would be as many and diverse grounds for annulment as the human intellect and imagination could conjure up.

For such a socially significant institution, the high standards of society demand an official governmental proclamation through the courts, and nothing less will suffice. A clear pronouncement by the courts would not only establish the nullity of the marriage contract, but it would also be simple to validate using publicly available documents.

To summarize, a judicial declaration of a marriage’s nullity is required before marrying someone else, but this declaration should not be used as the sole proof of a marriage’s nullity in a bigamy case. Given the amount of evidence required in criminal trials, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the first and final elements of a bigamy crime can thus be determined in the presence of testimonial or documentary evidence.

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RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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