Ending a marriage isn’t an easy decision, and the process is quite complicated as well — especially in the Philippines. As the remaining country in the world that denies divorce to its citizens, legally putting an end to an abusive or unhappy marriage can only be done through annulment.
Annulment terminates a marriage, but goes a step further by nullifying it so the marriage never existed.
“In order to leave a marriage legally and be able to marry in the church again, a person would have to get both a church and civil annulment,” Jill Alcibar, an attorney who specializes in litigation, labor law, and corporate law cases in Metro Manila, told Balikbayan Magazine.
Grounds For Annulment
According to Alcibar, the grounds are exclusive in annulment. If the basis is not one provided by the Family Code of the Philippines, then the petition will be denied. This is where annulment differs from divorce; generally, one can file for divorce if one of the spouses no longer wishes to stay together in marriage — usually citing “irreconcilable differences” as the reason.
The Family Code of the Philippines, in its Article 45, provides the following grounds for annulment:
01 Either party was 18 years of age or over but below twenty-one, and the marriage was solemnized without the consent of parents, guardians, or person having substitute parental authority over the party, in that order, unless after attaining the age of twenty-one, he/she freely cohabited with the other party;
02 Either party was of unsound mind, unless such party after coming to reason, freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife;
03 Consent by either party was obtained by fraud, unless such party afterwards, with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other;
04 The consent of either party was obtained by force, intimidation or undue influence, unless the same having disappeared or ceased, such party thereafter freely cohabited with the other;
05 Either party was physically incapable of consummating the marriage with the other, and such incapacity continues and appears to be incurable; or
06 Either party was afflicted with a sexually-transmitted disease found to be serious and appears to be incurable.
“An additional ground for annulment and which is the most popular ground in fact is Psychological Incapacity,” Alcibar added. This ground will be the last resort if the grounds in Art. 45 cannot be raised by the spouse wishing to secure an annulment.
Psychological Incapacity is defined by the Family Code Art. 36 where it 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 contemplates downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and to assume the basic marital responsibilities; not a mere refusal, neglect, or difficulty — much less ill will — on the part of the errant spouse. “Irreconcilable differences, conflicting personalities, emotional immaturity and irresponsibility, physical abuse, habitual alcoholism, sexual infidelity or perversion, by themselves, do not warrant a finding of psychological incapacity,” says Atty. Alcibar.
Annulment In The Philippines
The process of annulment in the country is tedious and taxing. “More often than not, you are only allowed to present one witness every scheduled hearing to allow the other cases to be heard. Your next scheduled hearing will range from two weeks after the last hearing if you’re lucky, and in some cases, three months,” Alcibar explained.
The duration depends on the load of the trial court to which the petition is raffled, the number of witnesses to be presented, and the availability of the parties and their counsels and their witnesses.
“If the other spouse challenges or opposes the annulment, it would be longer and would take years if they really fight it out in the trial court, to the Court of Appeals, and finally to the Supreme Court if either of them gets an unfavorable judgment,” she added.
There are cases, however, where the decision of the court granting the annulment may come out within a year — if the defendant spouse doesn’t participate when summoned to court, and the petitioning spouse is able to prove the ground relied upon to declare the annulment after presenting his/her witness.
To verify that there is no collusion between parties and that the evidence is not fabricated or suppressed, a public prosecutor is given the responsibility to appear on behalf of the state. In some instances, the public prosecutor, through the Solicitor General, will appeal a grant of annulment, which in turn, will delay the annulment. So while one might obtain their grant before the trial court in a year, it will still be prolonged by reason of the appeal.
Cost Of Annulment
Aside from its tiresome process, annulment is expensive as well. Alcibar divulged the major fees involved in the annulment process which are the following:
01 Filing fees: P10,000 ($200) or less – This is payable filing a Petition for Annulment of Marriage before the Office of the Executive Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of the province or city the petitioning spouse has been living at for at least six months. The filing fees can be under P10,000 if the spouse has no properties to divide.
02 Acceptance fees of lawyers: P100,000 ($2,000) and up – This is the fee the lawyer will charge the spouse for taking on his/her case; however, there are some cases where bigger firms will charge more than that, i.e. P500,000 ($10,000).
03 Pleading fees: P5,000 ($100) – P15,000 ($300) each (P100,000/$2,000 average) – Pleadings are the documents the spouse submits in court, such as petitions, pretrial briefs, judicial affidavits, and others.
04 Appearance fees: P5,000 ($100) – P10,000 ($200) each (P60,000/$1,200 average) – An appearance is when the lawyer actually goes to court for a scheduled hearing.
05 Doctor/psychiatrist fees: P50,000 ($1,000) and up – To file for an annulment on the ground of psychological incapacity, the spouse will need a psychological report from a doctor or psychologist or psychiatrist to use in court as strong proof of psychological incapacity and the spouse would need to present them as witness.
The bottom line: annulment isn’t for everyone — it can only be granted for select individuals who can actually afford it.
“This is why divorce should be allowed,” Alcibar said. “With the goal of preserving the sanctity of marriage, the end result is immorality. At the end of the day those who cannot afford annulment still leave their spouses, move in with another partner, and have children out of wedlock — because they have no other choice.”