SC: Psychological incapacity is legal concept, not medical condition in cases seeking declaration of marriage nullity

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2021 02:19 PM | Updated as of May 13 2021 10:26 AM

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MANILA — In a major shift, the Supreme Court now considers “psychological incapacity” in declaration of nullity of marriage cases as a legal concept, not a mental or personality disorder.

This means the testimony of a psychologist or psychiatrist is not always needed, the Supreme Court Public Information Center said in a press briefer released Wednesday.

In a unanimous ruling penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in the case of Tan-Andal v Andal, SC magistrates on Tuesday modified the interpretation of psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code.

Article 36 provides that 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.”

“The Court pronounced that psychological incapacity is not a medical but a legal concept. It refers to a personal condition that prevents a spouse to comply with fundamental marital obligations only in relation to a specific partner that may exist at the time of the marriage but may have revealed through behavior subsequent to the ceremonies,” the SC press briefer said.

“It need not be a mental or personality disorder. It need not be a permanent and incurable condition. Therefore, the testimony of psychologist or psychiatrist is not mandatory in all cases. The totality of the evidence must show clear and convincing evidence to cause the declaration of nullity of marriage,” it added.

The full copy of the ruling has yet to be released.

WHAT PREVIOUS RULINGS SAID 

While Art. 36 of the Family Code does not define psychological incapacity, prevailing Supreme Court cases considered it a medical condition.

The 1995 case of Santos v. CA said psychological incapacity should refer to “no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly cognitive of the basic marital covenants that concomitantly must be assumed and discharged by the parties to the marriage…”

“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 intensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. This psychologic condition must exist at the time the marriage is celebrated,” the Court ruled in denying the plea to declare a marriage void due to the failure of a young wife to return home or communicate with the husband for 5 years.

Subsequent Supreme Court cases credited Santos v. CA for establishing 3 characteristics of psychological incapacity:

(a) Gravity - It must be grave or serious such that the party would be incapable of carrying out the ordinary duties required in a marriage.

(b) Juridical antecedence - It must be rooted in the history of the party antedating the marriage, although the overt manifestations may emerge only after the marriage.

(c) Incurability - It must be incurable or, even if it were otherwise, the cure would be beyond the means of the party involved.

In the 1997 case of Republic v. CA and Molina, the Court laid down more definitive guidelines on psychological incapacity:

(1) The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff. 

(2) The root cause of the psychological incapacity must be (a) medically or clinically identified, (b) alleged in the complaint, (c) sufficiently proven by experts and (d) clearly explained in the decision…Expert evidence may be given by qualified psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

(3) The incapacity must be proven to be existing at "the time of the celebration" of the marriage.

(4) Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable.

(5) Such illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage.

(6) The essential marital obligations must be those embraced by Articles 68 up to 71 of the Family Code as regards the husband and wife as well as Articles 220, 221 and 225 of the same Code in regard to parents and their children.

(7) Interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by our courts; and

(8) The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the state.

[The Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages (A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC) released in 2003 no longer required a certification from the OSG.]


NOT NEW

What is not new is the declaration that an expert determination is needed to prove psychological incapacity.

The Supreme Court, in the 2000 case of Marcos v. Marcos, said a personal medical or psychological examination of the spouse alleged to be psychologically incapacitated is not required, relying instead on the totality of evidence presented. 

It however denied the petition because it did not consider the failure to provide material support to the family, resort to physical abuse, abandonment and the totality of a husband’s acts as constituting psychological incapacity. 

In the 2004 case of Republic vs Quintero-Hamano, the Supreme Court also applied the totality of evidence test to conclude that “it is not enough to prove that a spouse failed to meet his responsibility and duty as a married person; it is essential that he must be shown to be incapable of doing so due to some psychological, not physical, illness.”

Reiterating Marcos, it said actual medical examination of the person concerned need not be resorted to.

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SIGNIFICANCE OF NEW RULING

But the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday differs from existing cases in that it categorically declared psychological incapacity as not a medical concept and that it need not be permanent or incurable.

Previously, permanence and incurability are strictly required.

The 2006 case of Antonio vs Reyes granted the plea for declaration of nullity based on psychological incapacity even if there was no categorical statement from the expert witness that respondent’s psychological incapacity was incurable but the totality of evidence proved the incurability of the wife’s condition.

Reacting to the SC press briefer, Lyceum College of Law Dean Soledad Deriquito-Mawis asked:

“Kung hindi pala permanent and incurable and that I have to prove only the existence [of psychological incapacity] at the time of the celebration of marriage, so I have to prove lang root cause only for purposes of proving it existed at the time of marriage but not thereafter?”

(If it’s not permanent and incurable and I only have to prove only the existence of psychological incapacity at the time of the celebration of the marriage, so I have to prove only the root cause for the purpose of proving it existed at the time of marriage but not thereafter?)

“Parang mas madali bang i-prove ang psychological incapacity ngayon?,” she added.

(Is it easier to prove psychological incapacity now?)

She clarified however that courts will still require to prove, based on totality evidence, the root cause of psychological incapacity.

Mawis has more questions about the nature of “psychological incapacity.”

“If it’s not a mental or personal disorder, what is it?,” she asked, stressing the need to read the ruling in full.

DECLARATION OF NULLITY VS ANNULMENT

Psychological incapacity is just one of the grounds for declaration of nullity of marriages, a remedy for those whose marriages were void or inexistent from the very beginning.

Other grounds for void marriages involve defects as to age, license or authority of solemnizing officer, as well as incestuous and bigamous or polygamous marriages. 

A petition for declaration of nullity of marriage is different from a petition for annulment of marriage.

Annulment of marriage applies to voidable marriages or where the grounds for annulling the marriage appeared only during the marriage.

Grounds for annulment of marriages include consent obtained through fraud, force or intimidation; physical incapacity to consume the marriage; and being afflicted with a sexually-transmissible disease.