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Personality To Have A Void Marriage Declared Void

The basic issue in Felicitas Amor-Catalan v. CA, et al., G.R. No. 167109, February 6, 2007 is the personality of a spouse to file a complaint for declaration of nullity of the second marriage of the other spouse after an alleged divorce obtained abroad.

             Felicitas and Orlando got married; then migrated to the USA and allegedly became naturalized American citizens. After 38 years of marriage, they divorced. Two months thereafter, Orlando got married to Merope. Felicitas filed a complaint to have the second marriage declared void due to a prior marriage of Orlando with her. She prayed for damages. Orlando filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of lack of cause of action (should be failure to state a cause of action) alleging that she’s not a real party-in-interest. It was denied, hence trial was conducted where the RTC declared the subsequent marriage void and held Orlando and Merope liable for damages. The CA reversed on appeal, hence, a petition for review was filed with the SC contending among others, thus:

  1. She has the personality to file the complaint;
  2. She and her children suffered embarrassment and humiliation, hence, they are entitled to damages;
  3. The CA committed an error in reversing the RTC decision despite overwhelming evidence of the nullity of the second marriage and the state policy discouraging illegal and immoral marriages.

The SC ruled that the main issue to be resolved is whether petitioner has the personality to file a petition for the declaration of nullity of marriage of the respondents on the ground of bigamy. However, this issue may not be resolved without first determining the corollary factual issues of whether the petitioner and Orlando had indeed become naturalized American citizens and whether they had actually been judicially granted a divorce decree.

 Issue of naturalization.

             Both the RTC and Court of Appeals found that the parties were naturalized American citizens and that they obtained a divorce decree in April 1998. However, the records are bereft of competent evidence to prove their naturalization and divorce.

             Further, the Court of Appeals mistakenly considered the failure of the petitioner to refute or contest the allegation in respondents’ brief, that she and Orlando were American citizens at the time they secured their divorce in April 1998, as sufficient to establish the fact of naturalization and divorce. The petitioner was the one who alleged in her complaint that they acquired American citizenship and that Orlando obtained a judicial divorce decree. It is settled rule that one who alleges a fact has the burden of proving it and mere allegation is not evidence. (Rep. v. Orbecido III, G.R. No. 154380, October 5, 2005, 472 SCRA 114).

             Divorce means the legal dissolution of a lawful union for a cause arising after marriage. But divorces are of different types. The two basic ones are (1) absolute divorce or a vinculo matrimonii and (2) limited divorce or a mensa et thoro. The first kind terminates the marriage, while the second suspends it and leaves the bond in full force. (Garcia v. Recio, 418 Phil. 723 (2001)). A divorce obtained abroad by an alien may be recognized in our jurisdiction, provided such decree is valid according to the national law of the foreigner. (Roehr v. Rodriguez, 452 Phil. 608 (2003)). However, before it can be recognized by our courts, the party pleading it must prove the divorce as a fact and demonstrate its conformity to the foreign law allowing it, which must be proved considering that our courts cannot take judicial notice of foreign laws. (Rep. v. Orbecido III).

             Without the divorce decree and foreign law as part of the evidence, the Court cannot rule on the issue of whether petitioner has the personality to file the petition for declaration of nullity of marriage. After all, she may have the personality to file the petition if the divorce decree obtained was a limited divorce or a mensa et thoro; or the foreign law may restrict remarriage even after the divorce decree becomes absolute. (Garcia v. Recio). In such case, the RTC would be correct to declare the marriage of the respondents void for being bigamous, there being already in evidence two existing marriage certificates.

             However, if there was indeed a divorce decree obtained and which, following the national law of Orlando, does not restrict remarriage, the Court of Appeals would be correct in ruling that petitioner has no legal personality to file a petition to declare the nullity of marriage, thus:

             “Freed from their existing marital bond, each of the former spouses no longer has any interest nor should each have the personality to inquire into the marriage that the other might subsequently contract. x x x Viewed from another perspective, Felicitas has no existing interest in Orlando’s subsequent marriage since the validity, as well as any defect or infirmity, of this subsequent marriage will not affect the divorced status of Orlando and Felicitas.”

             True, under the New Civil Code which is the law in force at the time the respondents were married, or even in the Family Code, there is no specific provision as to who can file a petition to declare the nullity of marriage; however, only a party who can demonstrate “proper interest” can file the same. A petition to declare the nullity of marriage, like any other actions, must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest (Rule 3, Sec. 2, Rules of Court) and must be based on a cause of action. (Rule 2, Sec. 1, Rules of Court). Thus, in Niñal v. Bayadog, 384 Phil. 661 (2000), the Court held that the children have the personality to file the petition to declare the nullity of marriage of their deceased father to their stepmother as it affects their successional rights.

             Significantly, Section 2(a) of The Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages, which took effect on March 15, 2003, now specifically provides:

             SECTION 2. Petitioner for declaration of absolute nullity of void marriages. –

 (a)   Who may file. – A petition for declaration of absolute nullity of void marriage may be filed solely by the husband or the wife.

 x x x x

             In fine, petitioner’s personality to file the petition to declare the nullity of marriage cannot be ascertained because of the absence of the divorce decree and the foreign law allowing it. Hence, a remand of the case to the trial court for reception of additional evidence is necessary to determine whether respondent Orlando was granted a divorce decree and whether the foreign law which granted the same allows or restricts remarriage. If it is proved that a valid divorce decree was obtained and the same did not allow respondent Orlando’s remarriage, then the trial court should declare respondent’s marriage as bigamous and void ab initio. On the contrary, if it is proved that a valid divorce decree was obtained which allowed Orlando to remarry, then the trial court must dismiss the instant petition to declare nullity of marriage on the ground that petitioner Felicitas Amor-Catalan lacks legal personality to file the same.

 No presumption of conjugality.

             In Metrobank, et al. v. Jose Tan, et al., G.R. No. 163712, November 30, 2006, a property was registered under the names “Jose Tan married to Eliza Go Tan”. The husband contracted an obligation secured by a mortgage over the property. Since the husband failed to pay, there was foreclosure of the mortgage which was objected to by the wife on the ground that the property was mortgaged without her consent, hence, it is void contending that a conjugal property cannot be mortgaged without the consent of the spouse.

             In brushing aside the contention, the SC

 Held: The lack of consent to the mortgage covering the title in question would not render the encumbrance void under the second paragraph of Article 124 of the Family Code. For proof is wanting that the property covered by the title is conjugal – that it was acquired during respondents’ marriage which is what would give rise to the presumption that it is conjugal property. (Article 116, F.C.). The statement in the title that the property is “registered in accordance with the provisions of Section 103 of the Property Registration Decree in the name of JOSE B. TAN, of legal age, married to Eliza Go Tan does not prove or indicate that the property is conjugal. In Ruiz v. CA, G.R. No. 146942, April 22, 2003, 401 SCRA 410, it was ruled that the phrase “married to “ is merely descriptive of the civil status of a person and should not be construed to mean that the spouse is also a registered owner. Furthermore, registration of the property is not proof that such property was acquired during the marriage, and thus, is presumed to be conjugal. The property could have been acquired by a spouse while he was still single, and registered only after the marriage. Acquisition of title and registration thereof are two different acts. The presumption under Article 116 of the Family Code that properties acquired during the marriage are presumed to be conjugal cannot apply in the instant case. Before such presumption can apply, it must first be established that the property was in fact acquired during the marriage. In other words, proof of acquisition during the marriage is a condition sine qua non for the operation of the presumption in favor of conjugal ownership. No such proof was offered nor presented in the case at bar. (Metrobank, et al. v. Jose Tan, et al., G.R. No. 163712, November 30, 2006).

 Conjugal partnership not liable for an indemnity agreement entered into by the husband to accommodate a third party.

             Once again in Security Bank & Trust Co. v. Mar Tierra Corp., et al., G.R. No. 143382, November 29, 2006 (Corona, J), the basic question on the liability of the conjugal partnership for an indemnity agreement entered into by the husband to accommodate a third party was asked. It appears that Mar Tierra Corporation entered into a credit line agreement with SBTC. Wilfredo Martinez and others executed an indemnity agreement holding themselves solidarily liable for such obligation. There was no payment by the corporation, hence, a suit for collection of sum of money was filed. Judgment was rendered and it became final and executory. May the conjugal properties of Martinez and his wife be made to answer for such obligation? Why?

 Held: No. In acting as a guarantor or surety for another, the husband did not act for the benefit of the conjugal partnership but for a third party. (Luzon Surety Co., Inc. v. de Garcia, 140 Phil. 509 (1969)).

           Under Article 121(2) of the Family Code the conjugal partnership is liable for “all debts and obligations contracted by the husband for the benefit of the conjugal partnership.”

             In Ayala Investment and Development Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 349 Phil. 942 (1998) it was ruled that, if the husband himself is the principal obligor in the contract, i.e., the direct recipient of the money and services to be used in or for his own business or profession, the transaction falls within the term “obligations for the benefit of the conjugal partnership.” In other words, where the husband contracts an obligation on behalf of the family business, there is a legal presumption that such obligation redounds to the benefit of the conjugal partnership. (Security Bank & Trust Co. v. Mar Tierra Corp., et al., G.R No. 143382, November 29, 2006).

             On the other hand, if the money or services are given to another person or entity and the husband acted only as a surety or guarantor, the transaction cannot by itself be deemed an obligation for the benefit of the conjugal partnership. It is for the benefit of the principal debtor and not for the surety or his family. No presumption is raised that, when a husband enters into a contract of surety or accommodation agreement, it is for the benefit of the conjugal partnership. Proof must be presented to establish the benefit redounding to the conjugal partnership. In the absence of any showing of benefit received by it, the conjugal partnership cannot be held liable on an indemnity agreement executed by the husband to accommodate a third party.

             In this case, the principal contract, the credit line agreement between petitioner and respondent corporation, was solely for the benefit of the latter. The accessory contract (the indemnity agreement) under which individual respondent Martinez assumed the obligation of a surety for respondent corporation was similarly for the latter’s benefit. Petitioner had the burden of proving that the conjugal partnership of the spouses Martinez benefited from the transaction. It failed to discharge that burden.

             To hold the conjugal partnership liable for an obligation pertaining to the husband alone defeats the objective of the Civil Code to protect the solidarity and well being of the family as a unit. (Ching v. CA, G.R. No. 124642, February 24, 2004, 423 SCRA 356). The underlying concern of the law is the conservation of the conjugal partnership. (Ayala Investments & Dev. Corp. v. CA). Hence, it limits the liability of the conjugal partnership only to debts and obligations contracted by the husband for the benefit of the conjugal partnership.

 Duty to reimburse under Article 120, FC; not the purchaser.

             In Josefa Ferrer v. Sps. Manuel & Virginia Ferrer, et al., G.R. No. 166496, November 29, 2006, prior to his marriage with Josefa, Alfredo owned a real property. He obtained a loan from the SSS to build improvements on the land, but the loan was paid during their marriage. Alfredo sold the property to his brother. After his death, Josefa demanded that she be reimbursed one half (1/2) of the value of the improvements and demanded for such reimbursement from the brothers of Alfredo who are now the registered owners.

             Is her contention correct? Why?

 Held: No. While there is an obligation to reimburse the cost of the improvements, the obligation to reimburse rests on the spouse upon whom ownership of the entire property is vested. There is no obligation on the part of the purchaser of the property, in case the property is sold by the owner-spouse.

             Indeed, Article 120 provides the solution in determining the ownership of the improvements that are made on the separate property of the spouses at the expense of the partnership or through the acts or efforts of either or both spouses. Thus, when the cost of the improvement and any resulting increase in value are more than the value of the property at the time of the improvement, the entire property of one of the spouses shall belong to the conjugal partnership, subject to reimbursement of the value of the property of the owner-spouse at the time of the improvement; otherwise, said property shall be retained in ownership by the owner-spouse, likewise subject to reimbursement of the cost of the improvement. (Ferrer v. Ferrer, et al., G.R. No. 166496, November 29, 2006).