SC Reiterates Ruling that Family Code can be Applied Retroactively
September 5, 2023
The Family Code, including its concept of psychological incapacity as a ground to nullify marriage, shall be given retroactive effect, so long as no vested or acquired rights under relevant laws will be prejudiced or impaired.
Thus reiterated the Supreme Court’s First Division, in a Decision penned by Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando, denying the Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by Arthur A. Candelario and affirming the Order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of San Jose, Antique.
In 2009, Candelario filed before the RTC a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage. Candelario prayed that his marriage to Marlene E. Candelario (Marlene), contracted in a civil ceremony on June 11, 1984, be declared void ab initio due to his psychological incapacity to comply with his marital obligations, a ground for nullity under Article 36 of the Family Code.
The RTC denied Candelario’s petition, ruling that while his psychological incapacity has been established, the marriage still cannot be nullified under Article 36 of the Family Code as the law only became effective on August 3, 1988, while the marriage was celebrated on June 11, 1984. The RTC held that the applicable law that was in effect during the celebration of Candelario’s marriage was the Civil Code, which did not contain any provision similar to Article 36 of the Family Code.
In resolving Candelario’s petition, the Supreme Court first ruled on the issue of whether or not the Family Code applies to Candelario’s marriage.
The Court cited Article 256, which states that the Family Code “shall have retroactive effect insofar as it does not prejudice or impair vested or acquired rights in accordance with the Civil Code or other laws.”
Thus, it is explicitly stated in the Family Code that the law, including its concept of psychological incapacity as a ground to nullify marriage, shall apply retroactively, so long as no vested or acquired rights under relevant laws will be prejudiced or impaired, stressed the Court.
The Court also noted that while the original text of Article 39 of the Family Code made a distinction between marriages solemnized before and after the effectivity of the law, this provision has already been repealed by Republic Act No. 8533. Hence, Article 39 now reads: “The action or defense for the declaration of nullity of a marriage shall not prescribe.”
A review of the law further shows that nowhere does it state that Article 36, which provides that one’s psychological incapacity to comply with the essential obligations of marriage shall be a ground for nullity of the marriage, cannot be retroactively applied to marriages celebrated prior to the effectivity of the Family Code.
“Basic is the rule in statutory construction that where the law does not distinguish, the courts should not distinguish. When the law is free from ambiguity, the court may not introduce exceptions or conditions where none is provided from considerations of convenience, public welfare, or for any laudable purpose; neither may it engraft into the law qualifications not contemplated,” the Court said.
The Court added that records of the deliberations of the Family Code Revision Committee also show that the Committee took into consideration and voted on the retroactive application of Article 36.
This has also been similarly established by the Court in a long line of decisions, such as Valdes v. RTC (1996); Chi Ming Tsoi v. CA (1997); Republic v. Molina (1997); Camacho-Reyes v. Reyes (2010); Suazo v. Suazo (2010); Marable v. Marable (2011); Republic v. Enclean (2013); and Republic v. De Gracia (2014), among others.
The Court further noted the comment submitted by the Office of the Solicitor General that a contrary view “discriminates against married couples for no reason other than having had the misfortune of contracting their marriages earlier than 3 August 1988. There is no reason why it should be so, as all persons are prone to being afflicted by a psychological disorder that could cause a downright incapacity to perform the obligations of marriage. The question should not be when the party asking for dissolution got married, but whether such psychological incapacity in fact exists.”
The Court thus ruled that Article 36 of the Family Code applies to Candelario’s marriage.
However, the Court still denied Candelario’s petition for nullity of his marriage for failure to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Candelario’s personality disorder was one of psychological incapacity within the meaning of Article 36 of the Family Code that would warrant the severance of Candelario and Marlene’s marital bonds. “Failing in this regard, the Court must protect the sanctity of their marriage as mandated by the Constitution,” concluded the Court. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
Full text of G.R. No. 222068 (Candelario v. Candelario and Office of the Solicitor General, July 25, 2023) at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/222068-arthur-a-candelario-vs-marlene-e-candelario-and-the-office-of-the-solicitor-general/