MANILA -- Annulment is the last option for couples who cannot work out their differences. However, the process of annulment in the Philippines takes not only a long time, but also a lot of money.
In an interview on DZMM, Atty. Lorna Kapunan, a family lawyer, stressed that there is a difference between civil annulment and church annulment.
"Ang may legal consequence, ang may epekto, ay civil annulment. Kung nagpa-church annulment ka without a civil annulment, before the eyes of the law, may asawa ka pa rin," she explained.
Last week, Pope Francis simplified the process of church annulment, giving bishops powers to judge the cases themselves.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) welcomed this change, adding that the reforms will bring the matrimonial tribunals closer to the people.
For Kapunan, the Supreme Pontiff's move is a "welcome development" for those who want church annulment. However, it won't have an effect on civil annulment.
"Dahil sa principle ng separation of church and state, walang effect 'yan sa civil annulment," she said.
"Ang maganda dito sa move ng Pope is, it will indicate the direction the Pope wants to take in viewing marriages. Kasi dito sa Pilipinas, the Family Code redefined marriage as a permanent union. Idinagdag ang word na 'permanent,' meaning, divorce will never be allowed in this country," Kapunan added.
Cost of civil annulment
According to Kapunan, even if church annulments will be free of charge, a couple still has to spend a lot of money for a civil annulment.
"Hindi rin mura ang civil annulment kasi pinahirapan nila ang definition nung -- declaration nga ang tawag dun -- declaration of nullity of marriage. Kailangan, it is not only a legal conclusion, it has to be a conclusion of an expert. So aside from getting a lawyer, kailangan mo rin kumuha ng psychologist o psychiatrist na may medical license. Mahal din 'yun," she explained.
"Hindi lang 'yun dahil kokonti lang sila. There are very few psychiatrists who are willing to testify in court. So, captive market 'yan," Kapunan added.
Psychiatrists and psychologists can charge from P100,000 to P150,000 in annulment cases.
"Nung nagumpisa ako ng practice ng family law, medyo singkwenta (P50,000) lang ang chinacharge ng mga psychiatrist noon. Now it's as high as P100,000 to P150,000. So inhibitive talaga 'yan," Kapunan said.
Aside from payment for medical experts, one also has to pay for lawyers.
"Ang civil annulment, if you want to package it, normally lawyers would charge P100,000 plus appearance fees. 'Yung iba naman, like in our law firm, we go on time charges, so it is more efficient," Kapunan explained.
Even if one has the money to pay for experts and lawyers, the actual annulment process still takes a lot of time due to the lack of family courts in the country.
"It is difficult because there are very few family courts, so ang mangyayari, pipila ka. So ang frequency ng kaso mo, kung minsan every six months ang hearing, at least, every three months ang hearing. In one year's time, mga apat na beses lang kayo maghi-hearing, so tumatagal talaga ng six years ang civil annulment," Kapunan said.
"That is why proponents for divorce are saying na 'yung Article 36 naman has all the components of a divorce, eh di gawin na lang nating no-fault divorce," she added.
The long process of annulment
In the Philippines, couples can only have their marriage annulled on the ground of psychological incapacity.
"And it has to be grievous. Hindi lang incompatibility, it has to be grievous, meaning it has antecedent. Nakikita mo sa pamilya 'no. Ang incurable. Tatlong requirements 'yan na napakahirap i-prove," Kapunan said.
"Pinapalaki 'yung kasalanan ng bawat spouses para mag-appear na grievous," she added.
Unlike in Canon Law, or church law, the civil law does not allow a couple to file for annulment if the ground for annulment was only done once.
"Kinopya ang Article 36 sa Canon Law, except sa Canon Law, mas mahaba ang enumeration, specific talaga eh. Ang ginawa ng drafters ng Family Code natin, 'yung mga grounds like intoxication, infidelity, habitual drunkenness, drug addict, lesbianism, lahat 'to, failure to give support, lahat na 'yun, they put together, and described it under generic term psychological incapacity, which is failure to comply to the essential obligations of marriage," Kapunan explained.
However, the spouse has to prove that the other party has been violating the obligations of marriage repeatedly.
"Sabi ng jurisprudence ng Supreme Court, hindi lang isa. Halimbawa 'yung action of beating your wife. That is not enough ground daw. It should be shown that there is antecedent in the past. You have no concept of respect daw kasi nakikita mo 'yung tatay mo na binubugbog ang nanay mo, ganun, or incurable," Kapunan added.
For Kapunan, annulment would be easier if both the church and the state would have similar laws in annulment.
"Napakahirap talaga ng civil annulment. So maybe, since there is a move from the church, and the practice is to lift that from the Canon Law, di 'yung legality ng Canon Law sana pwedeng i-transpose sa civil law."
Because of the long process of annulment, some people would just instruct the other party not to answer summons and attend hearings to make the process easier. The state, however, is the one that makes the process difficult, according to Kapunan.
"Ang annulment proceedings, even if there is no husband or wife na opposition, you will always have opposition in terms of the state. The state has interest in preserving the marriage. Nasa constitution 'yan eh, preserving the solidarity of the marriage," she explained.
The court would then appoint a fiscal to ensure that there is no collusion in the case.
"It will also have to depend on the schedule on the fiscal. Hindi lang fiscal 'yan, kailangan meron ding representative from the Office of the Solicitor-General. So tatlo 'yan: fiscal, prosecution, Office of the Solicitor-General. Maski wala kang kalaban na asawa o lawyer ng asawa," Kapunan said, adding that the process also takes a long time since most courts prioritize criminal cases.
For Kapunan, it is commonly the wife who suffers in the long and costly process of annulment.
"Ang talo diyan is the wife. 'Yung misis ang kawawa. Normally naman 'yung nangangaliwa, 'yung husband eh. Ang kawawa diyan, 'yung wife. May double standards eh. 'Di ba sabi nila, why can the bee go from flower to flower to flower, but the flower cannot go from bee to bee to bee. So may double standards, for the husband, nobody will... macho nga ang tingin eh. But the wife, who also deserves a chance at happiness, eh hindi naman pwede. Loveless na 'yung marriage, they should each get a chance to be happy."