Foreign Divorce

In Edgar San Luis v. Felicidad San Luis, G.R. No. 133743; Rodolfo San Luis v. Felicidad Sagalongos (Felicidad San Luis), G.R. No. 134029, February 6, 2007, the late Governor Felicisimo San Luis got married three (3) times. In his first marriage, he had six (6) children. Then, his first wife died and got married again. They had a child. After the divorce obtained his second wife in the USA, he got married in the USA. He died in the Philippines. The third wife, Felicidad filed a petition to settle his estate, alleging that she was married to Felicisimo before he died and after his second wife obtained a decree of divorce in the USA. Two children of Felicisimo opposed on the ground that Felicisimo and Felicidad were not legally married as the divorce decree obtained by the second wife was not valid and binding in the Philippines, hence, it’s a bigamous marriage. The divorce decree was obtained in 1973 in Hawaii. It was contended that since their marriage was solemnized in 1974 or before the effectivity of the Family Code in 1988, the law cannot be given retroactive effect. Rule on the contention.

Held: In resolving the issue, the SC said that the issue of whether a Filipino who is divorced by his alien spouse abroad may validly remarry in the Philippines considering that Felicidad’s marriage to Felicisimo was solemnized on June 20, 1974, or before the Family Code took effect on August 3, 1988. In resolving this issue, the SC said that it need not retroactively apply the provisions of the Family Code, particularly Article 26, par. (2) considering that there is sufficient jurisprudential basis allowing the retroactivity of the Family Code.

    The case of Van Dorn v. Romillo, Jr., 139 SCRA 139 (1985), involved a marriage between a foreigner and his Filipino wife, which marriage was subsequently dissolved through a divorce obtained abroad by the latter. Claiming that the divorce was not valid under Philippine law, the alien spouse alleged that his interest in the properties from their conjugal partnership should be protected. The Court, however, recognized the validity of the divorce and held that the alien spouse had no interest in the properties acquired by the Filipino wife after the divorce. Thus, it was held:

    “In this case, the divorce in Nevada released private respondent from the marriage from the standards of American law, under which divorce dissolves the marriage. As stated by the Federal Supreme Court of the United States in Atherton vs. Atherton, 45 L. Ed. 794, 799:

    “The purpose and effect of a decree of divorce from the bond of matrimony by a competent jurisdiction are to change the existing status or domestic relation of husband and wife, and to free them both from the bond. The marriage tie, when thus severed as to one party, ceases to bind either. A husband without a wife, or a wife without a husband, is unknown to the law. When the law provides, in the nature of a penalty, that the guilty party shall not marry again, that party, as well as the other, is still absolutely freed from the bond of the former marriage.”

    Thus, pursuant to his national law, private respondent is no longer the husband of petitioner. He would have no standing to sue in the case below as petitioner’s husband entitled to exercise control over conjugal assets. As he is bound by the Decision of his own country’s Court, which validly exercised jurisdiction over him, and whose decision he does not repudiate, he is estopped by his own representation before said Court from asserting his right over the alleged conjugal property.”

    As to the effect of divorce on the Filipino wife, the Court held that she can no longer be considered married to the alien spouse. Further, she should not be required to perform her marital duties and obligations. It held:

    “To maintain, as private respondent does, that, under our laws, petitioner has to be considered still married to private respondent and still subject to a wife’s obligations under Article 109, et. seq. of the Civil Code cannot be just. Petitioner should not be obliged to live together with, observe respect and fidelity, and render support to private respondent. The latter should not continue to be one of her heirs with possible rights to conjugal property. She should not be discriminated against in her own country if the ends of justice are to be served. “

    This principle was thereafter applied in Pilapil v. Ibay-Somera, 174 SCRA 653 (1989), where the Court recognized the validity of a divorce obtained abroad. In the said case, it was held that the alien spouse is not a proper party in filing the adultery suit against his Filipino wife. The Court stated that “the severance of the marital bond had the effect of dissociating the former spouses from each other; hence the actuations of one would not affect or cast obloquy on the other.”

    Likewise, in Quita v. Court of Appeals, 300 SCRA 406 (1998), the Court stated that where a Filipino is divorced by his naturalized foreign spouse, the ruling in Van Dorn applies. Although decided on December 22, 1998, the divorce in the said case was obtained in 1954 when the Civil Code provisions were still in effect.

    The significance of the Van Dorn case to the development of limited recognition of divorce in the Philippines cannot be denied. The ruling has long been interpreted as severing marital ties between parties in a mixed marriage and capacitating the Filipino spouse to remarry as a necessary consequence of upholding the validity of a divorce obtained abroad by the alien spouse. In his treatise, Dr. Arturo M. Tolentino cited Van Dorn stating that “if the foreigner obtains a valid foreign divorce, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippines law.” In Garcia v. Recio, G.R. No. 138322, October 2, 2001, 366 SCRA 437, the Court likewise cited the aforementioned case in relation to Article 26.

    In the recent case of Republic v. Orbecido III, the historical background and legislative intent behind paragraph 2, Article 26 of the Family Code were discussed, to wit:

    On July 6, 1987, then President Corazon Aquino signed into law Executive Order No. 209, otherwise known as the “Family Code”, which took effect on August 3, 1988. Article 26 thereof states:

    “All marriages solemnized outside the Philippines in accordance with the laws in force in the country where they were solemnized, and valid there as such, shall also be valid in this country, except those prohibited under Articles 35, 36, 37 and 38.”

    On July 17, 1987, shortly after the signing of the original Family Code, Executive Order No. 227 was likewise signed into law, amending Articles 26, 36 and 39 of the Family Code. A second paragraph was added to Article 26. As so amended, it now provides:

    “ARTICLE 26. All marriages solemnized outside the Philippines in accordance with the laws in force in the country where they were solemnized, and valid there as such, shall also be valid in this country, except those prohibited under Articles 35(1), (4), (5) and (6), 36, 37 and 38.

    Where a divorce between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.” (Emphasis supplied)

    Records of the proceedings of the Family Code deliberations showed that the intent of Paragraph 2 of Article 26, is to avoid the absurd situation where the Filipino spouse remains married to the alien spouse who, after obtaining a divorce, is no longer married to the Filipino spouse.

    Interestingly, Paragraph 2 of Article 26 traces its origin to the 1985 case of Van Dorn v. Romillo, Jr.. The Van Dorn case involved a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner. The Court held therein that a divorce decree validly obtained by the alien spouse is valid in the Philippines, and consequently, the Filipino spouse is capacitated to remarry under Philippine law.

    As such, the Van Dorn case is sufficient basis in resolving a situation where a divorce is validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse. With the enactment of the Family Code and paragraph 2, Article 26 thereof, our lawmakers codified the law already established through judicial precedent.

    Indeed, when the object of a marriage is defeated by rendering its continuance intolerable to one of the parties and productive of no possible good to the community, relief in some way should be obtainable. (Goitia v. Campos Rueda, 35 Phil. 252 (1916)). Marriage, being a mutual and shared commitment between two parties, cannot possibly be productive of any good to the society where one is considered released from the marital bond while the other remains bound to it. Such is the state of affairs where the alien spouse obtains a valid divorce abroad against the Filipino spouse.

    Petitioner cited Articles 15 and 17 of the Civil Code in stating that the divorce is void under Philippine law insofar as Filipinos are concerned. However, in light of the Court’s rulings in the cases discussed above, the Filipino spouse should not be discriminated against in his own country if the ends of justice are to be served. (Van Dorn v. Romillo). In Alonzo v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 150 SCRA 259 (1987), the Court stated:

    “But as has also been aptly observed, we test a law by its results; and likewise, we may add, by its purposes. It is a cardinal rule that, in seeking the meaning of the law, the first concern of the judge should be to discover in its provisions the intent of the lawmaker. Unquestionably, the law should never be interpreted in such a way as to cause injustice as this is never within the legislative intent. An indispensable part of that intent, in fact, for we presume the good motives of the legislature, is to render justice.

    Thus, we interpret and apply the law not independently of but in consonance with justice. Law and justice are inseparable, and we must keep them so. To be sure, there are some laws that, while generally valid, may seem arbitrary when applied in a particular case because of its peculiar circumstances. In such a situation, we are not bound, because only of our nature and functions, to apply them just the same, in slavish obedience to their language. What we do instead is find a balance between the word and the will, that justice may be done even as the law is obeyed.

    As judges, we are not autonomous. We do not and must not unfeelingly apply the law as it is worded, yielding like robots to the literal command without regard to its cause and consequence. “Courts are apt to err by sticking too closely to the words of a law”, so we are warned, by Justice Holmes again, “where these words import a policy that goes beyond them.”

    x x x x

    More than twenty centuries ago, Justinian defined justice “as the constant and perpetual wish to render every one his due”. That wish continues to motivate this Court when it assesses the facts and the law in every case brought to it for decision. Justice is always an essential ingredient of its decisions. Thus when the facts warrants, we interpret the law in a way that will render justice, presuming that it was the intention of the lawmaker, to begin with, that the law be dispensed with justice.”

    Applying the above doctrine in the instant case, the divorce decree allegedly obtained by Merry Lee which absolutely allowed Felicisimo to remarry, would have vested Felicidad with the legal personality to file the present petition as Felicisimo’s surviving spouse. However, the records show that there is insufficient evidence to prove the validity of the divorce obtained by Merry Lee as well as the marriage of respondent and Felicisimo under the laws of the U.S.A. In Garcia v. Recio, the Court laid down the specific guidelines for pleading and proving foreign law and divorce judgments. It held that presentation solely of the divorce decree is insufficient and that proof of its authenticity and due execution must be presented. Under Sections 24 and 25 of Rule 132, a writing or document may be proven as a public or official record of a foreign country by either (1) an official publication or (2) a copy thereof attested by the officer having legal custody of the document. If the record is not kept in the Philippines, such copy must be (a) accompanied by a certificate issued by the proper diplomatic or consular officer in the Philippine foreign service stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept and (b) authenticated by the seal of his office.

    With regard to Felicidad’s marriage to Felicisimo allegedly solemnized in California, U.S.A., she submitted photocopies of the Marriage Certificate and the annotated text of the Family Law Act of California which purportedly show that their marriage was done in accordance with the said law. As stated in Garcia, however, the Court cannot take judicial notice of foreign law as they must be alleged and proved.

    Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for further reception of evidence on the divorce decree obtained by Merry Lee and the marriage of respondent and Felicisimo.

    Even assuming that Felicisimo was not capacitated to marry Felicidad in 1974, nevertheless, the latter has the legal personality to file the subject petition for letters of administration, as she may be considered the co-owner of Felicisimo as regards the properties that were acquired through their joint efforts during their cohabitation.

    Section 6, Rule 78 of the Rules of Court states that letters of administration may be granted to the surviving spouse of the decedent. However, Section 2, Rule 79 thereof also provides in part:

Section 2. Contents of petition for letters of administration. – A petition for letters of administration must be filed by an interested person and must show, as far as known to the petitioner: x x x.

    An “interested person” has been defined as one who would be benefited by the estate, such as an heir, or one who has a claim against the estate, such as a creditor. The interest must be material and direct, and not merely indirect or contingent. (Saguinsin v. Lindayag, 116 Phil. 1193 (1962)).

    In the instant case, Felicidad would qualify as an interested person who has a direct interest in the estate of Felicisimo by virtue of their cohabitation, the existence of which was not denied by petitioners. If she proves the validity of the divorce and Felicisimo’s capacity to remarry, but fails to prove that her marriage with him was validly performed under the laws of the U.S.A., then she may be considered as a co-owner under Article 144 of the Civil Code. This provision governs the property relations between parties who live together as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage, or their marriage is void from the beginning. It provides that the property acquired by either or both of them through their work or industry or their wages and salaries shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership. In a co-ownership, it is not necessary that the property be acquired through their joint labor, efforts and industry. Any property acquired during the union is prima facie presumed to have been obtained through their joint efforts. Hence, the portions belonging to the co-owners shall be presumed equal, unless the contrary is proven. (Valdes v. RTC, Br. 102, Q.C., 328 Phil. 1289 (1996)).

    Meanwhile, if Felicidad fails to prove the validity of both the divorce and the marriage, the applicable provision would be Article 148 of the Family Code which has filled the hiatus in Article 144 of the Civil Code by expressly regulating the property relations of couples living together as husband and wife but are incapacitated to marry. In Saguid v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 150611, June 10, 2003, 403 SCRA 678, which occurred before the Family Code took effect, Article 148 governs. The Court described the property regime under this provision as follows:
    “The regime of limited co-ownership of property governing the union of parties who are not legally capacitated to marry each other, but who nonetheless live together as husband and wife, applies to properties acquired during said cohabitation in proportion to their respective contributions. Co-ownership will only be up to the extent of the proven actual contribution of money, property or industry. Absent any proof of the extent thereof, their contributions and corresponding shares shall be presumed to be equal.

    x x x x

In the cases of Agapay v. Palang, and Tumlos v. Fernandez, which involved the issue of co-ownership of properties acquired by the parties to a bigamous marriage and an adulterous relationship, respectively, we ruled that proof of actual contribution in the acquisition of the property is essential. x x x

As in other civil cases, the burden of proof rests upon the party who, as determined by the pleadings or the nature of the case, asserts an affirmative issue. Contentions must be proved by competent evidence and reliance must be had on the strength of the party’s own evidence and not upon the weakness of the opponent’s defense. x x x

    Thus, the legal capacity to file the subject petition for letters of administration may arise from her status as the surviving wife of Felicisimo or as his co-owner under Article 144 of the Civil Code or Article 148 of the Family Code.