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Psychological Incapacity as a Ground for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage

Article 36 of the Family Code provides that “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 be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”

Whether or not psychological incapacity exists in a given case calling for the declaration of the nullity of the marriage depends crucially on the facts of the case. Each case must be closely scrutinized and judged according to its own facts as there can be no case that is on "all fours" with another. [Carating-Siayngco vs. Siayngco, 441 SCRA 422, 432 (2004)]

In Republic vs. Court of Appeals, 268 SCRA 198, 209-212 (1997), the Supreme Court laid down the following guidelines in cases involving psychological incapacity as a ground to have a marriage declared a nullity:

a.   The burden of proof to show the nullity of 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, 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 echoes this constitutional edict on marriage and the family and emphasizes their permanence, inviolability and solidarity.

b.   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. 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, nevertheless such root cause must be identified as a psychological illness and its incapacitating nature fully explained. Expert evidence may be given by qualified psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

c.   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.

d.   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 absolute 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.

e.   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, not 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.

f.    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.

g.   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 out court.

The term “psychological incapacity” refers to a serious psychological illness afflicting a party even before the celebration of the marriage. It is a malady so grave and so permanent as to deprive one of awareness of the duties and responsibilities of the matrimonial bond one is about to assume. As all people may have certain quirks and idiosyncrasies, or isolated characteristics associated with certain personality disorders, 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 insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. It is for this reason that the Court relies heavily on psychological experts for its understanding of the human personality. However, the root cause must be identified as a psychological illness and its incapacitating nature must be fully explained. [cf. Ma. Armida Perez-Ferraris vs. Brix Ferraris, G.R. No. 162368, 17 July 2006]

Thus, mixed personality disorder, such as the “leaving-the-house” attitude whenever the spouses quarreled, the violent tendencies during epileptic attacks, the sexual infidelity, the abandonment and lack of support, and preference to spend more time with friends or people other than his/her family, dependence on parents for aid and assistance, dishonesty to the spouse regarding finances, may not be rooted on some debilitating psychological condition but a mere refusal or unwillingness to assume the essential obligations of marriage. Such psychological defects may be more of a “difficulty,” if not outright “refusal” or “neglect” in the performance of some marital obligations, and a mere showing of irreconcilable 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, not physical, illness. [Ibid.]

Also, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity or perversion, and abandonment do not by themselves constitute grounds for declaring a marriage void based on psychological incapacity. [Ibid.]

Accordingly, in determining the import of “psychological incapacity” under Article 36, it must be read in conjunction with other provisions of the law on void ab initio and voidable marriages, as well as on the grounds for legal separation. Care must be observed so that these various circumstances are not applied so indiscriminately as if the law were indifferent on the matter. Also, Article 36 should not be confused with a divorce law that cuts the marital bond at the time the causes therefor manifest themselves. Neither it is to be equated with legal separation, in which the grounds need not be rooted in psychological incapacity but on physical violence, moral pressure, moral corruption, civil interdiction, drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity, abandonment and the like. [Ibid.]