Civil Law

Paula Llorente vs Court of Appeals

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G.R. No. 124371 – 345 SCRA 592 – Civil Law – Application of Laws – Foreign Laws – Nationality Principle – Effects of Foreign Divorce

Succession – Last Will and Testament of an Alien

In 1927, Lorenzo Llorente, then a Filipino, was enlisted in the U.S. Navy. In 1937, he and Paula Titular got married in Camarines Sur. In 1943, Lorenzo became an American citizen.

In 1945, Lorenzo returned to the Philippines for a vacation. He discovered that Paula was already living illicitly with Ceferino Llorente (brother of Lorenzo). Ceferino and Paula even had a son.

Lorenzo then refused to live with Paula. He also refused to give her monetary support. Eventually, Lorenzo and Paula agreed in writing that Lorenzo shall not criminally charge Paula if the latter agrees to waive all monetary support from Lorenzo. Later, Lorenzo returned to the United States.

In 1951, Lorenzo filed a divorce proceeding against Paula in California. Paula was represented by an American counsel. The divorce was granted and in 1952, the divorce became final.

Lorenzo returned to the Philippines. In 1958, Lorenzo married Alicia Fortuno. They had three children.

In 1981, Lorenzo executed his last will and testament where he left all his estate to Alicia and their children (nothing for Paula). In 1983, he went to court for the will’s probate and to have Alicia as the administratrix of his property. In 1985, before the probate proceeding can be terminated, Lorenzo died. Later, Paula filed a petition for letters of administration over Lorenzo’s estate in the same court where the probate was pending.

The trial court ruled that Lorenzo’s marriage with Alicia is void because the divorce he obtained abroad is void. The trial court ratiocinated that Lorenzo is a Filipino hence divorce is not applicable to him. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

ISSUES: Whether or not Lorenzo’s divorce abroad should be recognized.

HELD: Yes. It is undisputed by Paula Llorente that Lorenzo became an American citizen in 1943. Hence, when he obtained the divorce decree in 1952, he is already an American citizen. Article 15 of the Civil Code provides:

Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.

Since Lorenzo was no longer a Filipino, Philippine laws relating to family rights, duties, or status are no longer applicable to him. Therefore, the divorce decree he obtained abroad must be respected. The rule is: aliens may obtain divorces abroad, provided they are valid according to their national law.

However, this case was still remanded to the lower court for the latter to determine the effects of the divorce as to the successional rights of Lorenzo and his heirs.

Anent the issue on Lorenzo’s last will and testament, it must be respected. He is an alien and is not covered by our laws on succession. However, since the will was submitted to our courts for probate, then the case was remanded to the lower court where the foreign law must be alleged in order to prove the validity of the will.

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