Annulment and psychological incapacity of a seafarer

Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 4:05 p.m.
By Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

One of the unfortunate consequence of seafarers working away for several months is the falling out of marriage.

For couples desperate to find a way out of their troubled marriages,  some choose to undergo trying and tedious legal process where they have to incur many expenses: the cost of litigation, filing fees, and even the professional fees.

In most cases, the complaining party raises the issue whether or not the other party is psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential obligations of marriage warranting the annulment of their marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code.

In Najera v. Najera (G.R. No. 164817, 3 July 2009), the Supreme Court ruled that  physical violence or grossly abusive conduct of  the seafarer toward his wife  and his  abandonment of his wife  without justifiable cause for more than one year are grounds for legal separation only and not for annulment of marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code.

While employed,  the seafarer did not give the wife sufficient financial support and she had to rely on her own efforts and the help of her parents in order to live. The seafarer would quarrel with the wife and falsely accuse her of having an affair with another man whenever he came home and took to smoking marijuana and drinking. In one instance, while he was quarreling with the wife, without provocation, he inflicted physical violence upon her and attempted to kill her with a bolo.  After the said incident, the seafarer left the family home, taking along all their personal belongings, and abandoned the wife.

The wife contended that her evidence established the root cause of the seafarer’s psychological incapacity which is his dysfunctional family background. With such background, the seafarer could not have known the obligations he was assuming, particularly the duty of complying with the obligations essential to marriage.

The Supreme Court ruled that the totality of the evidence submitted by the wife failed to satisfactorily prove that seafarer was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential obligations of marriage. The root cause of seafarer ’s alleged psychological incapacity was not sufficiently proven by experts or shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable.

 The appointment of seafarer ’s mother as a beneficiary and his representing himself as single in his Seafarer Information Sheet, without more, are not indications of his dependence on his family amounting to his incapacity to fulfill his duties as a married man.  (Republic vs. Cabantug-Baguio, G.R. No. 171042, June 30, 2008)

In Cruz vs. Cruz (October 11, 2017, G.R. No. 201988), the Supreme Court  reiterated the doctrine “that psychological incapacity must be characterized by (a) gravity (i.e., it must be grave and serious such that the party would be incapable of carrying out the ordinary duties required in a marriage); (b) juridical antecedence (i.e., it must be rooted in the history of the party antedating the marriage, although the overt manifestations may emerge only after the marriage); and (c) incurability (i.e., it must be incurable, or even if it were otherwise, the cure would be beyond the means of the party involved).”

Irreconcilable differences, emotional immaturity and irresponsibility and the like, do not by themselves warrant a finding of psychological incapacity under Article 36, as the same may only be due to a person’s refusal or unwillingness to assume the essential obligations of marriage (Republic of the Philippines vs. De Quintos, Jr.,  685 SCRA 33, 46.) It is not merely difficulty, refusal, or neglect in the performance of marital obligations or ill will.

The protagonists in most cases are in reality simply unwilling to work out a solution for each other’s personality differences and have thus become overwhelmed by feelings of disappointment or disillusionment toward one another. Sadly, a marriage, even if unsatisfactory, is not a null and void marriage (Navales v. Navales, 578 Phil. 826)

The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the complaining party. 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 the Philippine  Constitution and related laws cherish the validity of marriage and unity of the family.

The Philippine  Constitution recognizes the family 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.

This article was published in Cebu Daily News:

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