Art. 36 Family Code Psychological incapacity

RP vs CA and Roridel Molina – Psychological Incapacity, Family Code, Legal Medicine


The Family Code of the Philippines provides an entirely new ground (in addition to those enumerated in the Civil Code) to assail the validity of a marriage, namely, “psychological incapacity.” Since the Code’s effectivity, our courts have been swamped with various petitions to declare marriages void based on this ground. Although this Court had interpreted the meaning of psychological incapacity in the recent case of Santos vs. Court of Appeals, still many judges and lawyers find difficulty in applying said novel provision in specific cases. In the present case and in the context of the herein assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals, the Solicitor General has labelled — exaggerated to be sure but nonetheless expressive of his frustration — Article 36 as the “most liberal divorce procedure in the world.” Hence, this Court in addition to resolving the present case, finds the need to lay down specific guidelines in the interpretation and application of Article 36 of the Family Code.

Before us is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 challenging the January 25, 1993 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals2 in CA-G.R. CV No. 34858 affirming in toto the May 14, 1991 decision of the Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad,3 Benguet, which declared the marriage of respondent Roridel Olaviano Molina to Reynaldo Molina void ab initio, on the ground of “psychological incapacity” under Article 36 of the Family Code.

The Facts

This case was commenced on August 16, 1990 with the filing by respondent Roridel O. Molina of a verified petition for declaration of nullity of her marriage to Reynaldo Molina. Essentially, the petition alleged that Roridel and Reynaldo were married on April 14, 1985 at the San Agustin Church4 in Manila; that a son, Andre O. Molina was born; that after a year of marriage, Reynaldo showed signs of “immaturity and irresponsibility” as a husband and a father since he preferred to spend more time with his peers and friends on whom he squandered his money; that he depended on his parents for aid and assistance, and was never honest with his wife in regard to their finances, resulting in frequent quarrels between them; that sometime in February 1986, Reynaldo was relieved of his job in Manila, and since then Roridel had been the sole breadwinner of the family; that in October 1986 the couple had a very intense quarrel, as a result of which their relationship was estranged; that in March 1987, Roridel resigned from her job in Manila and went to live with her parents in Baguio City; that a few weeks later, Reynaldo left Roridel and their child, and had since then abandoned them; that Reynaldo had thus shown that he was psychologically incapable of complying with essential marital obligations and was a highly immature and habitually quarrel some individual who thought of himself as a king to be served; and that it would be to the couple’s best interest to have their marriage declared null and void in order to free them from what appeared to be an incompatible marriage from the start.

In his Answer filed on August 28, 1989, Reynaldo admitted that he and Roridel could no longer live together as husband and wife, but contended that their misunderstandings and frequent quarrels were due to (1) Roridel’s strange behavior of insisting on maintaining her group of friends even after their marriage; (2) Roridel’s refusal to perform some of her marital duties such as cooking meals; and (3) Roridel’s failure to run the household and handle their finances.

During the pre-trial on October 17, 1990, the following were stipulated:

  1. That the parties herein were legally married on April 14, 1985 at the Church of St. Augustine, Manila;
  2. That out of their marriage, a child named Albert Andre Olaviano Molina was born on July 29, 1986;
  3. That the parties are separated-in-fact for more than three years;
  4. That petitioner is not asking support for her and her child;
  5. That the respondent is not asking for damages;
  6. That the common child of the parties is in the custody of the petitioner wife.

Evidence for herein respondent wife consisted of her own testimony and that of her friends Rosemarie Ventura and Maria Leonora Padilla as well as of Ruth G. Lalas, a social worker, and of Dr. Teresita Hidalgo-Sison, a psychiatrist of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center. She also submitted documents marked as Exhibits “A” to “E-1.” Reynaldo did not present any evidence as he appeared only during the pre-trial conference.

On May 14, 1991, the trial court rendered judgment declaring the marriage void. The appeal of petitioner was denied by the Court of Appeals which affirmed in toto the RTC’s decision. Hence, the present recourse.

The Issue

In his petition, the Solicitor General insists that “the Court of Appeals made an erroneous and incorrect interpretation of the phrase ‘psychological incapacity’ (as provided under Art. 36 of the Family Code) and made an incorrect application thereof to the facts of the case,” adding that the appealed Decision tended “to establish in effect the most liberal divorce procedure in the world which is anathema to our culture.”

In denying the Solicitor General’s appeal, the respondent Court relied5 heavily on the trial court’s findings “that the marriage between the parties broke up because of their opposing and conflicting personalities.” Then, it added it sown opinion that “the Civil Code Revision Committee (hereinafter referred to as Committee) intended to liberalize the application of our civil laws on personal and family rights. . . .”

It concluded that:

As ground for annulment of marriage, We view psychologically incapacity as a broad range of mental and behavioral conduct on the part of one spouse indicative of how he or she regards the marital union, his or her personal relationship with the other spouse, as well as his or her conduct in the long haul for the attainment of the principal objectives of marriage. If said conduct, observed and considered as a whole, tends to cause the union to self-destruct because it defeats the very objectives of marriage, then there is enough reason to leave the spouses to their individual fates.

In the case at bar, We find that the trial judge committed no indiscretion in analyzing and deciding the instant case, as it did, hence, We find no cogent reason to disturb the findings and conclusions thus made.

Respondent, in her Memorandum, adopts these discussions of the Court of Appeals.

The petitioner, on the other hand, argues that “opposing and conflicting personalities” is not equivalent to psychological incapacity, explaining that such ground “is not simply the neglect by the parties to the marriage of their responsibilities and duties, but a defect in their psychological nature which renders them incapable of performing such marital responsibilities and duties.”

The Court’s Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

In Leouel Santos vs. Court of Appeals6 this Court, speaking thru Mr. Justice Jose C. Vitug, ruled that “psychological incapacity should refer to no less than a mental (nor physical) incapacity . . . and that (t)here 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 insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. This psychologic condition must exist at the time the marriage is celebrated.” Citing Dr. Gerardo Veloso, a former presiding judge of the Metropolitan Marriage Tribunal of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila,7 Justice Vitug wrote that “the psychological incapacity must be characterized by (a) gravity, (b) juridical antecedence, and (c) incurability.”

On the other hand, in the present case, there is no clear showing to us that the psychological defect spoken of is an incapacity. It appears to us to be more of a “difficulty,” if not outright “refusal” or “neglect” in the performance of some marital obligations. Mere showing of “irreconciliable differences” and “conflicting personalities” in no wise constitutes psychological incapacity. It is not enough to prove that the parties failed to meet their responsibilities and duties as married persons; it is essential that they must be shown to be incapable of doing so, due to some psychological (nor physical) illness.

The evidence adduced by respondent merely showed that she and her husband could nor get along with each other. There had been no showing of the gravity of the problem; neither its juridical antecedence nor its incurability. The expert testimony of Dr. Sison showed no incurable psychiatric disorder but only incompatibility, not psychological incapacity. Dr. Sison testified:8


Q: It is therefore the recommendation of the psychiatrist based on your findings that it is better for the Court to annul (sic) the marriage?

A: Yes, Your Honor.

Q: There is no hope for the marriage?

A: There is no hope, the man is also living with another woman.

Q: Is it also the stand of the psychiatrist that the parties are psychologically unfit for each other but they are psychologically fit with other parties?

A: Yes, Your Honor.

Q: Neither are they psychologically unfit for their professions?

A: Yes, Your Honor.

The Court has no more questions.

In the case of Reynaldo, there is no showing that his alleged personality traits were constitutive of psychological incapacity existing at the time of marriage celebration. While some effort was made to prove that there was a failure to fulfill pre-nuptial impressions of “thoughtfulness and gentleness” on Reynaldo’s part of being “conservative, homely and intelligent” on the part of Roridel, such failure of expectation is nor indicative of antecedent psychological incapacity. If at all, it merely shows love’s temporary blindness to the faults and blemishes of the beloved.

During its deliberations, the Court decided to go beyond merely ruling on the facts of this case vis-a-vis existing law and jurisprudence. In view of the novelty of Art. 36 of the Family Code and the difficulty experienced by many trial courts interpreting and applying it, the Court decided to invite two amici curiae, namely, the Most Reverend Oscar V. Cruz,9 Vicar Judicial (Presiding Judge) of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, and Justice Ricardo C. Puno, 10 a member of the Family Code Revision Committee. The Court takes this occasion to thank these friends of the Court for their informative and interesting discussions during the oral argument on December 3, 1996, which they followed up with written memoranda.

From their submissions and the Court’s own deliberations, the following guidelines in the interpretation and application of Art. 36 of the Family Code are hereby handed down for the guidance of the bench and the bar:

(1) The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff. Any doubt should be resolved in favor of the existence and continuation of the marriage and against its dissolution and nullity. This is rooted in the fact that both our Constitution and our laws cherish the validity of marriage and unity of the family. Thus, our Constitution devotes an entire Article on the Family, 11 recognizing it “as the foundation of the nation.” It decrees marriage as legally “inviolable,” thereby protecting it from dissolution at the whim of the parties. Both the family and marriage are to be “protected” by the state.

The Family Code 12 echoes this constitutional edict on marriage and the family and emphasizes the permanence, inviolability and solidarity

(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. Article 36 of the Family Code requires that the incapacity must be psychological — not physical. although its manifestations and/or symptoms may be physical. The evidence must convince the court that the parties, or one of them, was mentally or physically ill to such an extent that the person could not have known the obligations he was assuming, or knowing them, could not have given valid assumption thereof. Although no example of such incapacity need be given here so as not to limit the application of the provision under the principle of ejusdem generis, 13 nevertheless such root cause must be identified as a psychological illness and its incapacitating nature explained. Expert evidence may be given qualified psychiatrist and clinical psychologists.

(3) The incapacity must be proven to be existing at “the time of the celebration” of the marriage. The evidence must show that the illness was existing when the parties exchanged their “I do’s.” The manifestation of the illness need not be perceivable at such time, but the illness itself must have attached at such moment, or prior thereto.

(4) Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable. Such incurability may be absolute or even relative only in regard to the other spouse, not necessarily absolutely against everyone of the same sex. Furthermore, such incapacity must be relevant to the assumption of marriage obligations, not necessarily to those not related to marriage, like the exercise of a profession or employment in a job. Hence, a pediatrician may be effective in diagnosing illnesses of children and prescribing medicine to cure them but may not be psychologically capacitated to procreate, bear and raise his/her own children as an essential obligation of marriage.

(5) Such illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage. Thus, “mild characteriological peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts” cannot be accepted as root causes. The illness must be shown as downright incapacity or inability, nor a refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will. In other words, there is a natal or supervening disabling factor in the person, an adverse integral element in the personality structure that effectively incapacitates the person from really accepting and thereby complying with the obligations essential to 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. Such non-complied marital obligation(s) must also be stated in the petition, proven by evidence and included in the text of the decision.

(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. It is clear that Article 36 was taken by the Family Code Revision Committee from Canon 1095 of the New Code of Canon Law, which became effective in 1983 and which provides:

The following are incapable of contracting marriage: Those who are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage due to causes of psychological nature. 14

Since the purpose of including such provision in our Family Code is to harmonize our civil laws with the religious faith of our people, it stands to reason that to achieve such harmonization, great persuasive weight should be given to decision of such appellate tribunal. Ideally — subject to our law on evidence — what is decreed as canonically invalid should also be decreed civilly void.

This is one instance where, in view of the evident source and purpose of the Family Code provision, contemporaneous religious interpretation is to be given persuasive effect. Here, the State and the Church — while remaining independent, separate and apart from each other — shall walk together in synodal cadence towards the same goal of protecting and cherishing marriage and the family as the inviolable base of the nation.

(8) The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the state. No decision shall he handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification, which will be quoted in the decision, briefly staring therein his reasons for his agreement or opposition, as the case may be, to the petition. The Solicitor General, along with the prosecuting attorney, shall submit to the court such certification within fifteen (15) days from the date the case is deemed submitted for resolution of the court. The Solicitor General shall discharge the equivalent function of the defensor vinculi contemplated under Canon 1095.

In the instant case and applying Leouel Santos, we have already ruled to grant the petition. Such ruling becomes even more cogent with the use of the foregoing guidelines.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Decision is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The marriage of Roridel Olaviano to Reynaldo Molina subsists and remains valid.


Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.

Regalado, Kapunan and Mendoza, JJ., concurs in the result.

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