As laymen put it here in the Philippine setting, they often say “annulment” of marriage. Estranged, fighting, and unreconciling couples tend to suggest, or even directly intimating their desire, to lawyers that they want to sever their marriage.
Couples or either one of them usually states “Can we annul our marriage?”, “How long is the process of annulment of marriage?”, “How much is the cost of annulment of marriage?”. These are the familiar and basic questions that they inquire into, which hinge upon the word “annulment” only. Yet, we have specific grounds to sever marriage ties in the Philippines.
The author, who is a lawyer by profession here in the Philippines, frequently encounters these light yet pragmatic kinds of approach in his law practice.
Let us say for example, a married man or a woman, who has been having trouble in his or her marital life, will go to a lawyer’s office and inquire on how to end the marital bond. Initially, the above-mentioned questions are propounded.
However, and unless the legal counselor himself indoctrinates the asking visitor, nowhere in the conversations and interactions between the attorney and the would-be client will the latter mention, or even reveal a glimpse of knowledge about, “declaration of nullity of marriage”. He or she will plainly suggest “annulment”.
Simply put, Annulment of Marriage and Declaration of Nullity of Marriage instantly become interchangeable in the practical and ordinary world. Yet, in legal forum, they are different legal terms with separate and distinct legal results, effects, and consequences.
In short, they are different animals! However, one similarity is the severance of the matrimonial ties, akin to the infamous Gordian Knot!
How does Declaration of Nullity of Marriage differ from Annulment thereof?
Let us now distinguish. It is better, at the outset, to make fundamental distinctions between the two. Declaration of Nullity of Marriage pertains to Void or Void Ab Initio Marriages, while Annulment of Marriages concerns itself with Voidable Marriages.
Void ones are null from the beginning. On the other hand, Voidable means valid until annulled. Getting the point at this early? We continue.
We discuss in seriatim. First, the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage.
Here, we have to group the situations as designed and distinguished by law. In this case, the Family Code of the Philippines.
Grounds for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage [Void Ab Initio Marriages or Null and Void from the Beginning] are found in the following Provisions of the Family Code, to wit:
|Provision of the Law||Nature||Specifics|
|Article 35||Lack of Essential and Formal Requisites | Bigamous | Mistake| Dissolution of Property Relations Requirements||(1) Those contracted by any party below eighteen years of age even with the consent of parents or guardians;
(2) Those solemnized by any person not legally authorized to perform marriages unless such marriages were contracted with either or both parties believing in good faith that the solemnizing officer had the legal authority to do so;
(3) Those solemnized without license, except those covered the preceding Chapter;
(4) Those bigamous or polygamous marriages not failing under Article 41;
(5) Those contracted through mistake of one contracting party as to the identity of the other; and
(6) Those subsequent marriages that are void under Article 53.
|Article 36||Psychological Incapacity||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.
|Article 37||Incestuous Marriages||Marriages between the following are incestuous and void from the beginning, whether relationship between the parties be legitimate or illegitimate:
(1) Between ascendants and descendants of any degree; and
(2) Between brothers and sisters, whether of the full or half blood.
|Article 38||Void by reason of Public Policy||The following marriages shall be void from the beginning for reasons of public policy:
(1) Between collateral blood relatives whether legitimate or illegitimate, up to the fourth civil degree;
(2) Between step-parents and step-children;
(3) Between parents-in-law and children-in-law;
(4) Between the adopting parent and the adopted child;
(5) Between the surviving spouse of the adopting parent and the adopted child;
(6) Between the surviving spouse of the adopted child and the adopter;
(7) Between an adopted child and a legitimate child of the adopter;
(8) Between adopted children of the same adopter; and
(9) Between parties where one, with the intention to marry the other, killed that other person's spouse, or his or her own spouse.
|Article 40 in relation to Article 50||Contracting subsequent marriage [void] without declaring the previous nullity of the first marriage by final judgment||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. [Art. 40]
The effects provided for by paragraphs (2), (3), (4) and (5) of Article 43 and by Article 44 shall also apply in the proper cases to marriages which are declared ab initio or annulled by final judgment under Articles 40 and 45. [Art. 50]
|Article 44||Supposed Valid Bigamous Marriage [subsequent marriage] yet contracted in Bad Faith by BOTH spouses||If both spouses of the subsequent marriage acted in bad faith, said marriage shall be void ab initio and all donations by reason of marriage and testamentary dispositions made by one in favor of the other are revoked by operation of law.
|Article 53 [mentioned in Article 35]||Non-compliance with the requirements for Dissolution of Property and subsequent Registration thereof with the Registry of Property||Either of the former spouses may marry again after compliance with the requirements of the immediately preceding Article; otherwise, the subsequent marriage shall be null and void.|
Now that we have grouped and segregated the grounds, you will notice that, in Article 40 [in relation to Article 50] and 44, they focus on the SECOND or SUBSEQUENT Marriages.
While, of course, by invoking Article 40, one has undergone a process of declaring void the FIRST Marriage. What is contemplated therefore is that, even if the FIRST marriage is void ab initio in the eyes of the law, it is still has to be declared without legal effect and null by a competent court in a final judgment for that purpose, if the desire of one or both spouses is to contract subsequent marriage or marriages with another person.
Application of Article 40 of the Family Code
In all cases, if the FIRST marriage is null and void, as mentioned, the same must be adjudged as such by Final Judgment of a competent Court first, when one of, or both the, the spouses from that first marriage will want to contract a SUBSEQUENT marriage. Otherwise, that subsequent marriage shall be without any legal effect [Art. 40 in relation to Art. 50, FC].
Supposing Arnel married Ana. Arnel, however, was validly married to Raquel prior the former’s marriage with Ana. In this case, Arnel’s alleged marital bond with Ana was null and void under Article 35 par. 4 of the Family Code, for being bigamous. Now, Ana discovered the prior legal ties of Arnel with Raquel, both still being husband and wife. Thinking that her matrimonial union with Arnel was void ab initio [from the beginning], Ana left Arnel and contracted another marriage with Dindo. Ana did not comply with the provision of Article 40 of the Family Code that she has to seek a declaration by final judgment from the court that her union with Arnel has been without any legal effect from the start. Thus, in this scenario, the marriage between Ana and Dindo shall, likewise, be void.
Article 40 of the Family Code 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.
How does prescription evolve in relation to Article 39 of the Family Code?
Under Article 39 of the Code, without its amendment, it provides that, in marriage celebrated before the effectivity of the Family Code on August 3, 1988 [MEMORANDUM CIRCULAR NO. 85 – Clarifying the effectivity date of the family code of the Philippines], when invoking Article 36 [psychological incapacity] of the said Code to declare a certain marriage null and void, the action or defense for such ground [psychological incapacity] shall prescribe in TEN  years.
Nonetheless, when Republic Act No. 8533 was approved on February 23, 1998, the prescription of ten (10) years in invoking an action or defense relative to the issue of psychological incapacity, affecting marriages celebrated before the effectivity of the Family Code, has already been deleted.
The said Republic Act [R. A. No. 8553] has become effective from its approval fifteen (15) days after its complete publication in the newspaper of general circulation.
Today, there is no more prescription, whether the marriage has been solemnized prior or after the effectivity of the Family Code, without prejudice to vested rights when applicable.
What are the grounds for Annulment of Marriage in the Philippines, therefore?
As initially discussed above, we have to determine what kind of marriage does “annulment” refer to. As in contract law in general, annulment of contract refers to one that is voidable in character. Now, when we say “voidable”, it denotes a contract that is “valid until annulled”.
While being an inviolable social institution, marriage is still a contract. And some general principles of contract law, which are not inconsistent with the laws applicable to marriage, may as well be suppletory to the latter.
Thus, when we talk about annulment of marriage in legal and technical sense, it concerns a voidable marriage. Under the Family Code, voidable marriages are distinctly classified from void marriages, which we have talked about.
Grounds for Annulment of Marriages | Voidable marriages
|Article 45 [Grounds]||Nature||Who May File||Article 47 [Time/Period to File]||Exception to Statute of Limitations / Prescription|
|That the party in whose behalf it is sought to have the marriage annulled was eighteen years of age or over but below twenty-one, and the marriage was solemnized without the consent of the parents, guardian or person having substitute parental authority over the party, in that order||Lack of Parental Consent||• By the party whose parent or guardian did not give his or her consent|
• By the parent or guardian or person having legal charge of the minor
|• Within five years after attaining the age of twenty-one [Spouse]|
• At any time before such party has reached the age of twenty-one [Parent]
|Unless after attaining the age of twenty-one, such party freely cohabited with the other and both lived together as husband and wife|
|That either party was of unsound mind||Unsound Mind||• By the sane spouse, who had no knowledge of the other's insanity|
• By any relative or guardian or person having legal charge of the insane
• By the insane spouse during a lucid interval or after regaining sanity
|• At any time before the death of either party [Sane Spouse]|
• At any time before the death of either party [Guardian]
• During a lucid interval or after regaining sanity [Spouse w/ Unsound Mind]
|Unless such party after coming to reason, freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife|
|That the consent of either party was obtained by fraud||Fraud||By the injured party||Within five years after the discovery of the fraud||Unless such party afterwards, with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife|
|That the consent of either party was obtained by force, intimidation or undue influence||Force & Intimidation||By the injured party||Within five years from the time the force, intimidation or undue influence disappeared or ceased||Unless the same having disappeared or ceased, such party thereafter freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife|
|That either party was physically incapable of consummating the marriage with the other, and such incapacity continues and appears to be incurable||Incurable Disease||By the injured part||Within five years after the marriage||No exception|
|That either party was afflicted with a sexually-transmissible disease found to be serious and appears to be incurable||Sexually Transmissible Disease||By the injured party||Within five years after the marriage||No exception|
It must be stressed that these are the only grounds for “Annulment” of marriages. Further, it is also required that these must be existing at the time of its celebration, although the discovery of other grounds, as far as applicable, may happen subsequently.
Specific attention to Fraud
As regards the ground of Fraud, the same is limited by the only class of fraud stated in Article 46 of the Family Code. No other fraudulent acts are considered or included, in order for one party to secure the consent of the other to enter into marriage. Thus:
Any of the following circumstances shall constitute fraud referred to in Number 3 of Article 46 of the Family Code shall constitute fraud as ground for annulling the marriage, namely:
(1) Non-disclosure of a previous conviction by final judgment of the other party of a crime involving moral turpitude;
(2) Concealment by the wife of the fact that at the time of the marriage, she was pregnant by a man other than her husband;
(3) Concealment of sexually transmissible disease, regardless of its nature, existing at the time of the marriage; or
(4) Concealment of drug addiction, habitual alcoholism or homosexuality or lesbianism existing at the time of the marriage.
No other misrepresentation or deceit as to character, health, rank, fortune or chastity shall constitute such fraud as will give grounds for action for the annulment of marriage [Article 46, 2nd Paragraph].
As this juncture, we already know the facets of “Annulment” of marriage as a layman’s jargon. Hence, in order to be legally accurate, we decipher the term “annulment”, and the fact that it includes in its vernacular’s parlance the legal and technical definition of “Declaration of Nullity of Marriage”.
Nevertheless, this finds importance when a person is already decided to petition before the Court to end his/her marriage. As such, the determination of a valid ground or several justifications will be inevitable.