Psychological incapacity, which a ground for annulment of marriage (which is different from divorce), contemplates downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and to assume the basic marital obligations; 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, and abandonment, by themselves, also do not warrant a finding of psychological incapacity.
Among the grounds for annulment of marriage, psychological incapacity is the more (if not the most) commonly used. It is also one of the more controversial provisions of the Family Code (Article 36). The guidelines (shortened here) in the interpretation and application of Article 36 were handed down by the Supreme Court in Molina:
1. The plaintiff (the spouse who filed the petition in court) has burden of showing the nullity of the marriage. Our laws cherish the validity of marriage and unity of the family, so any doubt is resolved in favor of the existence/continuation of the marriage.
2. 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, although its manifestations and/or symptoms may be physical. Expert evidence may be given by qualified psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.
3. 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.
4. 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 absolutely 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 our courts.
8. The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the state. No decision shall be handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification, which will be quoted in the decision, briefly stating therein his reasons for his agreement or opposition, as the case may be, to the petition.
Let’s examine some recent Supreme Court cases on what constitutes or doesn’t constitute psychological incapacity.
In Antonio vs. Reyes (G.R. No. 155800, 10 March 2006), the Supreme Court sustained the nullity of the marriage based on the psychological incapacity of the wife (respondent). As concluded by the psychiatrist, the wife’s repeated lying is abnormal and pathological, and amounts to psychological incapacity (for the “digest” or a more detailed discussion of the case, click here).
On the other hand, in Republic vs. Quintero-Hamano (G.R. No. 149498, 20 May 2004), the wife alleged taht her husband, a Japanese, failed to meet his duty to live with, care for and support his family. He abandoned them a month after the marriage. The wife sent him several letters but he never replied. He made a trip to the Philippines but did not care at all to see his family. However, while the husband’s act of abandonment was doubtlessly irresponsible, it was never alleged nor proven to be due to some kind of psychological illness. Aside from the abandonment, no other evidence was presented showing that the husband’s behavior was caused by a psychological disorder. It’s not enough to prove that a spouse failed to meet his responsibility and duty as a married person; it is essential that he must be shown to be incapable of doing so due to some psychological, not physical, illness.
Although, as a rule, there was no need for an actual medical examination, it would have greatly helped the wife’s case had she presented evidence that medically or clinically identified his illness. This could have been done through an expert witness.