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Saturday, April 29, 2017

NULLITY OF MARRIAGE: Lack of Marriage License Due To False Affidavit of Cohabitation

Interfering In-Laws Caused the Marriage Breakdown
@Alain Atienza Tag

This petition involves a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage between Petitioner (J) and Respondent (L) on the ground that the marriage was solemnized without a marriage license, anchored on the falsity of the period of five (5) consecutive years of cohabitation stated in the Affidavit of cohabitation.


FACTUAL SCENARIO:


J, is a cameraman for TV shows that air over PTV 4, while L was working as the head writer for the same TV shows. During their initial meeting, J found L to be friendly, kind and intelligent, being a graduate of Mass Communications from the Ateneo de Manila University. As and always worked together on the same production, their mutual attraction for each other grew. With constant teasing from M, their Production Manager, and co-workers, J and L became sweethearts sometime in the latter part of 2001.

Sometime in April 2003, while J , L and M were having lunch, M told the couple that they should consider about marrying since they were both of age.  J was then almost twenty six (26) years old, while L was already twenty three (23) years old then. M said that if the J and L agree to marry each other, she would take care of all the expenses and arrangement for the wedding and all they have to do were to show up on the appointed wedding day. J and L jokingly said “why not?”.

Unknown to J and L, M has taken the joke as an express agreement for J and to get married. Less than three (3) years after J and L met, M arranged their "secret wedding". “Everything was all set” for their wedding which was scheduled in the morning of June 27, 2003 in a restaurant at F.B. Harrison in Pasay City.

After the wedding, J and L returned back to the office to do their usual work. After a few days, moved in to the rented apartment of the J in Mandaluyong City, without the knowledge of L’s mother and siblings.

Sometime in November 2003, when L's mother and her family learned of the clandestine wedding and their marital relationship, they all got mad against J. Yet J and L still cohabited together and bravely face their trials away from L’s family. During their cohabitation, J and L are blessed with two children.

In 2009, when L’s mother suffered a “stroke”, the couple was  forced to move in to L’s house. While they were living together with L’s mother, J often felt belittled and often treated with “cold” shoulders by L's mother and siblings. Consequently, J had  misunderstandings with his wife.  Worst, L's mother would even intervene in their marital problems and would always side with her daughter. Thus, after eight (8) months of misery, J decided to move out and rent out a new place for his family. However, L chose to stay with her mother.

In 2010, J and parted ways and live their separate lives. After more than four (4) years of being separated, J became resigned to the fact that reconciliation with his wife was already impossible, prompting  the Petitioner to file a petition for the nullity of their marriage.

COUNSEL'S EVALUATION:

The marriage between the Petitioner and Respondent was done without securing the required marriage license.  In lieu of a marriage license, Petitioner and Respondent executed a sworn AFFIDAVIT OF A MAN AND A WOMAN WHO HAVE LIVED TOGETHER AS HUSBAND AND WIFE FOR AT LEAST FIVE (5) YEARS, attesting that both of them had attained the age of maturity, and that being unmarried, they had lived together as husband and wife for at least five (5) years. Although Petitioner signed the sworn Affidavit stating that he and Respondent had lived as husband and wife for at least five years, there was no truth in that statement, as Petitioner and Respondent had not cohabited as husband and wife for five (5) consecutive years before their marriage on June 27, 2003.

The falsity of the period of five (5) consecutive years of cohabitation stated in the Affidavit of cohabitation effectively renders the marriage void ab initio for lack of a marriage license.  Article 35 (3) of the Family Code of the Philippines provides that a marriage solemnized without a marriage license, save marriages of exceptional character, shall be void from the beginning.  Inasmuch as the marriage between the Petitioner and Respondent is not covered by the exception to the requirement of a marriage license, it is, therefore, void ab initio because of the absence of a marriage license.


COURT FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION:
(quoted verbatim from the 18-page decision rendered by the Honorable Court on December 12, 2016)

"The main issue to be resolved in this case:

      Whether or not the falsity of an affidavit of marital cohabitation, where the parties have in truth fallen short of the minimum five-year requirement, effectively renders the marriage void ab initio for lack of a marriage license under Article 35 (3) of the Family Code.

      Xxx. Under the circumstances of the case, the documentary and testimonial evidence presented by the Petitioner sufficiently established the lack of marriage license as required under Article 35 (3) of the Family Code.

      As ruled by the Supreme Court in the case of SYED AZHAR ABBAS vs. GLORIA GOO ABBAS, G.R. No. 183896, January 30, 2013, to wit:

XXX
The Supreme Court resolves a case solemnized under the Family Code of the Philippines, hinges on whether or not a valid marriage license had been issued for the couple. In upholding the decision of RTC 109, Pasay (and rejecting the position of the Court of Appeals), the SC ruled that Article 4 of the Family Code is clear when it says, “The absence of any of the essential or formal requisites shall render the marriage void ab initio, except as stated in Article 35(2).” Article 35(3) of the Family Code also provides that a marriage solemnized without a license is void from the beginning, except those exempt from the license requirement under Articles 27 to 34, Chapter 2, Title I of the same Code.
Again, this marriage cannot be characterized as among the exemptions, and thus, having been solemnized without a marriage license, is void ab initio. As to the motive of Syed in seeking to annul his marriage to Gloria, it may well be that his motives are less than pure, that he seeks to evade a bigamy suit. Be that as it may, the same does not make up for the failure of the respondent to prove that they had a valid marriage license, given the weight of evidence presented by petitioner. The lack of a valid marriage license cannot be attributed to him, as it was Gloria who took steps to procure the same. The law must be applied. As the marriage license, a formal requisite, is clearly absent, the marriage of Gloria and Syed is void ab initio.”
The Supreme Court also held in REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES vs. JOSE DAYOT G.R. No. 175581  March 28, 2008, to wit:
XXX
The Supreme Court in this case resolves the central issue of whether the falsity of an affidavit of marital cohabitation, where the parties have in truth fallen short of the minimum five-year requirement, effectively renders the marriage void ab initio for lack of a marriage license in the affirmative and states that:

“It is not contested herein that the marriage of Jose and Felisa was performed without a marriage license.  In lieu thereof, they executed an affidavit declaring that “they have attained the age of maturity; that being unmarried, they have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years; and that because of this union, they desire to marry each other.” 

Marriages of exceptional character are, doubtless, the exceptions to the rule on the indispensability of the formal requisite of a marriage license.  Under the rules of statutory construction, exceptions, as a general rule, should be strictly, but reasonably construed.  They extend only so far as their language fairly warrants, and all doubts should be resolved in favor of the general provisions rather than the exception. Where a general rule is established by statute with exceptions, the court will not curtail the former or add to the latter by implication.  For the exception in Article 76 to apply, it is a sine qua non thereto that the man and the woman must have attained the age of majority, and that, being unmarried, they have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years. 

A strict but reasonable construction of Article 76 leaves us with no other expediency but to read the law as it is plainly written.  The exception of a marriage license under Article 76 applies only to those who have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years and desire to marry each other.  The Civil Code, in no ambiguous terms, places a minimum period requirement of five years of cohabitation.  No other reading of the law can be had, since the language of Article 76 is precise.  The minimum requisite of five years of cohabitation is an indispensability carved in the language of the law.  For a marriage celebrated under Article 76 to be valid, this material fact cannot be dispensed with.  It is embodied in the law not as a directory requirement, but as one that partakes of a mandatory character.  It is worthy to mention that Article 76 also prescribes that the contracting parties shall state the requisite facts in an affidavit before any person authorized by law to administer oaths; and that the official, priest or minister who solemnized the marriage shall also state in an affidavit that he took steps to ascertain the ages and other qualifications of the contracting parties and that he found no legal impediment to the marriage. 

It is indubitably established that Jose and Felisa have not lived together for five years at the time they executed their sworn affidavit and contracted marriage. 

Therefore, the falsity of the affidavit dated 24 November 1986, executed by Jose and Felisa to exempt them from the requirement of a marriage license, is beyond question.
 
The affidavit merely sets forth such fact, which if found false would only be a mere scrap of paper, without force and effect.”
The Supreme Court also pronounced in Niñal v. Bayadog (384 Phil. 661, 667-668 (2000), where the contracting parties to a marriage solemnized without a marriage license on the basis of their affidavit that they had attained the age of majority, that being unmarried, they had lived together for at least five (5) years and that they desired to marry each other, the Supreme Court ruled as follows:
“x x x In other words, the five-year common-law cohabitation period, which is counted back from the date of celebration of marriage, should be a period of legal union had it not been for the absence of the marriage.  This 5-year period should be the years immediately before the day of the marriage and it should be a period of cohabitation characterized by exclusivity – meaning no third party was involved at any time within the 5 years and continuity – that is unbroken.  Otherwise, if that continuous 5-year cohabitation is computed without any distinction as to whether the parties were capacitated to marry each other during the entire five years, then the law would be sanctioning immorality and encouraging parties to have common law relationships and placing them on the same footing with those who lived faithfully with their spouse.  Marriage being a special relationship must be respected as such and its requirements must be strictly observed.  The presumption that a man and a woman deporting themselves as husband and wife is based on the approximation of the requirements of the law.  The parties should not be afforded any excuse to not comply with every single requirement and later use the same missing element as a pre-conceived escape ground to nullify their marriage.  There should be no exemption from securing a marriage license unless the circumstances clearly fall within the ambit of the exception.  It should be noted that a license is required in order to notify the public that two persons are about to be united in matrimony and that anyone who is aware or has knowledge of any impediment to the union of the two shall make it known to the local civil registrar.
 It should be pointed out that under this exception, what exempts the future spouses from the requirement of securing a marriage license is not the execution of the affidavit of cohabitation, but rather, the fact of cohabitation for at least five (5) years without legal impediment to marry each other. Its purpose is to avoid exposing the parties to humiliation, shame and embarrassment concomitant with the scandalous cohabitation of persons outside a valid marriage due to the publication of every applicant’s name for a marriage license, which could discourage such persons from legitimizing their status. 

WHEREFORE, the herein petition is hereby GRANTED.




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