The Supreme Court has shifted from its usual “strict and literal” to “liberal” interpretation of a provision in the Family Code pertaining to the issue of psychological incapacity as a ground for seeking nullity of marriage.
In a 25-page decision written by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the SC Special First Division said that it had set some guidelines for the interpretation and application of Article 36 of the Family Code that “have turned out to be rigid, such that their application to every instance practically condemned the petitions for declaration of nullity to the fate of certain rejection.”
But the high court said such provision should not “so strictly and too literally” applied.
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.”
Psychological incapacity under Article 36 refers to a serious psychological illness afflicting a party even prior to the celebration of the marriage that is permanent as to deprive the party of the awareness of the duties and responsibilities of the matrimonial bond he or she was about to assume.
Interpretation and application of Article 36 of the Family Code which include: the burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff; the root cause of psychological incapacity must be medically or clinically identified; the incapacity must be proven to be existing at the time of the marriage; such incapacity must be shown to be incurable; such incapacity must be grave enough to bring about disability of the party to fulfill essential obligations of marriage, among others.
The SC noted that based on the deliberations of the members of the Family Code Revision Committee that drafted the law, they were not unanimous on the meaning of psychological incapacity, thus they decided to adopt the provision “with less specificity than expected” in order to have the law “allow some resiliency in its application.”
“Instead, every court should approach the issue of nullity ‘not on the basis of a priori assumptions, predilections or generalizations, but according to its own fact’ in recognition of the verity that no case would be on ‘all fours’ with the next one in the field of psychological incapacity as a ground for the nullity of marriage; hence. It added that every ‘trial judge must take pains in examining the factual milieu and the appellate court must, as much as possible, avoid substituting its own judgment for that of the trial court.”
In relaxing the rules in determining psychological incapacity for nullification of marriages, the SC said they are “not demolishing the foundation of families but is actually protecting the sanctity of marriage, because it refuses to allow a person afflicted with a psychological disorder, who cannot comply with or assume the essential marital obligations from remaining in that sacred bond.”
The tribunal admitted that the courts may be flooded by petitions to nullify their marriages following the decision, but explained that there is no reason to be worried because of ample safeguards such as intervention of the government.
“The Court should rather be alarmed by the rising number of cases involving marital abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and incestuous rape,” the SC warned.
The Court’s shift in liberal interpretation of Article 36 of the Family came as it reversed its decision promulgated in September 2011 and decided to nullify a marriage of a couple, saying a strict implementation of the rules would allow diagnosed sociopaths, schizophrenics, narcissists and the like to stay married.
In its September 2011 ruling, the SC upheld the Court of Appeals decision, which reversed the lower court’s order nullifying the marriage based on the petition of the husband.