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G.R. No. 137567 – 334 SCRA 106 – Civil Law – Persons and Family Relations – Family Code – Marriage – Article 40
In 1973, Meynardo Beltran and Charmaine Felix married each other. They had four children but after 24 years of marriage Beltran filed an action for the declaration of the nullity of their marriage due to Charmaine’s psychological incapacity. Charmaine countered that Beltran left the conjugal home to cohabit with a certain Milagros and that she filed a case of concubinage against Beltran. In 1997, the lower court found probable cause against Beltran and Milagros. In order to forestall the issuance of a warrant of arrest against him, Beltran raised the issue that the civil case he filed is a prejudicial question to the criminal case filed by Milagros. He said that the courts hearing the cases may issue conflicting rulings if the criminal case will not be suspended until the civil case gets resolved. The lower court denied Beltran’s petition and so did Judge Florentino Tuazon, Jr. of the RTC upon appeal. Beltran then elevated the case to the Supreme Court.
ISSUE: Whether or not the absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked as a prejudicial question in the case at bar.
HELD: No. The rationale behind the principle of prejudicial question is to avoid two conflicting decisions. It has two essential elements: (a) the civil action involves an issue similar or intimately related to the issue raised in the criminal action; and (b) the resolution of such issue determines whether or not the criminal action may proceed. The pendency of the case for declaration of nullity of Beltran’s marriage is not a prejudicial question to the concubinage case. For a civil case to be considered prejudicial to a criminal action as to cause the suspension of the latter pending the final determination of the civil case, it must appear not only that the said civil case involves the same facts upon which the criminal prosecution would be based, but also that in the resolution of the issue or issues raised in the aforesaid civil action, the guilt or innocence of the accused would necessarily be determined.
Article 40 of the Family Code provides:
“The absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.”
The SC ruled that the import of said provision is that for purposes of remarriage, the only legally acceptable basis for declaring a previous marriage an absolute nullity is a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void, whereas, for purposes of other than remarriage, other evidence is acceptable.
In a case for concubinage, the accused (Beltran) need not present a final judgment declaring his marriage void for he can adduce evidence in the criminal case of the nullity of his marriage other than proof of a final judgment declaring his marriage void.
With regard to Beltran’s argument that he could be acquitted of the charge of concubinage should his marriage be declared null and void, suffice it to state that even a subsequent pronouncement that his marriage is void from the beginning is not a defense.