The marriage trap

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

There is still no divorce law in the Philippines. This column will keep on repeating this: that around the world, only the Philippines and the Vatican have no divorce law.

Instead, what the Philippines can come up with at best as a ground to put an end to a fruitless marriage is the affliction of “psychological incapacity” of either or both spouses as envisaged under Article 36 of the Family Code.

But what is worrying is that psychological incapacity is difficult to discern and more difficult to prove. Clear and convincing evidence must be churned up showing that the psychological malady already existed prior to the marriage ceremony. Unlike in divorce where irreconcilable differences which occurred only during the marriage would be enough to uncouple the parties; in psychological incapacity, it must be established during trial that the psychological scar was caused by an emotional wound that way preceded the marriage.

Just when it was thought that Tan-Andal v. Andal (May 11, 2021) had finally democratized the guidelines for determining the presence of psychological incapacity, when it removed the shackles established by the Molina guidelines,  a recent case yet again reminded that there must be “a natal or supervening disabling factor” that renders a party incapable of fulfilling his/ her spousal duties. In Republic of the Philippines v. John Arnel H. Amata, G.R. No. 212971 which came down on November 29, 2022, it was held that:

“To support a petition for the severance of marital tie, it is not enough to show that a party alleged to be psychologically incapacitated had difficulty in complying with his marital obligations, or was unwilling to perform these obligations.  It is indispensable for the party moving for the dissolution of marriage to present proof of a natal or supervening disabling factor that effectively incapacitated him or her from complying with his or her essential marital obligations”.

Tan-Andal had already eased up the Molina guidelines which required exacting standards such as: (1) a medical explanation of the root cause of the psychological incapacity; (2) proven to exist at the time of the celebration of the marriage; and, (3) must be so grave and incurable and proven by clear and convincing evidence. As according to Tan-Andal the Molina guidelines have proven to be, in every manner, “restrictive, rigid, and intrusive of our rights to liberty, autonomy, and human dignity”.

Echoing Tan-Andal is the more recent ruling in Raphy Valdez De Silva v. Donald De Silva and Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 247985. October 13, 2021 where it was concluded  that “deviant behavior, moral insanity and sociopathic personality anomaly” erode the very essence of marriage, and thus it would be unwise for courts to force a married couple to stick to the marriage under such unbearable circumstances.

But perhaps what is of more doctrinal value is the ruling in Te v. Te, G.R. No. 161793, February 13, 2009. Here, the “narcissistic personality disorder” of a party was taken seriously by the Supreme Court such that its affliction rendered the parties’ marriage as stillborn. Thus:

“Let it be noted that in Article 36, there is no marriage to speak of in the first place, as the same is void from the very beginning. To indulge in imagery, the declaration of nullity under Article 36 will simply provide a decent burial to a stillborn marriage”.

The sordid reality is that many married couples have to endure being trapped in a loveless marriage. They had been ensnared in such ill-starred marriages on account of circumstances of youth or immaturity, unplanned pregnancy, or misrepresentation by their spouse. Yet despite the separation in fact of the spouses for many years, still, courts are not keen to grant petitions for nullity of marriage unless the psychological incapacity is proven to be grave, serious and incurable.

Marriages are always presumed valid and this is the default rule when the one seeking its nullity is unable to overcome the burden of proof which is clear and convincing evidence.

So in the Philippines, marriage is a prison wherein its key to freedom is hard to find in this part of the world.

Yet this column humbly submits that the years of separation of the parties should also be factored in determining the presence of psychological incapacity. Res ipsa loquitur or the thing speaks for itself, must be reckoned in cases of spouses who have been unable to fix their marriage despite years of trying. It is the natural tendency of a human being to long for and be with his/ her family especially on occasions like Christmas. Thus, when one is mindless or incognizant of family togetherness during meaningful seasons, that must be a tell-tale sign of psychological incapacity.

Again, res ipsa loquitur.

In Republic v. Manalo, G.R. No. 221029, April 24, 2018 as well as The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima et al., V. Alzona et al., G.R. No. 224307, August 6, 2018, it was underlined that “our courts are not only courts of law, but justice and equity. Thus the court’s mission and purpose is to apply the law with justice”.

It is respectfully opined that “applying the law with justice” means considering the fate or comeuppance of all loveless and failed marriages. That unmooring the spouses from their lifeless marriages means allowing them another chance at finding happiness given that the pursuit of happiness is a constitutional right that must be preferred over the State’s policy to protect marriage. Such policy oftentimes rings hollow, instead of hallowed.

As Leo Tolstoy had quipped in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

This column wishes all happy families a Merry Christmas. But the heart goes out to all unhappy families out there during this Christmas season.

May the law be applied much closer to justice by considering your pursuit of happiness in the coming years.

(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a law book author. His website is