Civil Law

Reinel De Castro vs Annabelle De Castro

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G.R. No. 160172 – 545 SCRA 162 – Civil Law – Family Code – Marriages; Void ab initio marriages

Reinel and Annabelle met and became sweethearts in 1991.  They applied for a marriage license in Pasig City in September 1994.  They had their first sexual relation sometime in October 1994, and had regularly engaged in sex thereafter.  When the couple went back to the Office of the Civil Registrar, the marriage license had already expired.  Thus, in order to push through with the plan, in lieu of a marriage license, they executed an affidavit dated 13 March 1995 stating that they had been living together as husband and wife for at least five years. The couple got married on the same date. Nevertheless, after the ceremony, petitioner and respondent went back to their respective homes and did not live together as husband and wife. On 13 Nov 1995, Annabelle gave birth to a child named Reinna Tricia A. De Castro. Since the child’s birth, the mother has been the one supporting her out of her income as a government dentist and from her private practice.

On 4 June 1998, respondent filed a complaint for support against petitioner before the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City . In her complaint, respondent alleged that she is married to petitioner and that the latter has reneged on his responsibility/obligation to financially support her as his wife and Reinna Tricia as his child. Reinel denied his marriage with Annabelle claiming that the marriage is void ab initio because the affidavit they jointly executed is a fake. And that he was only forced by Annabelle to marry her to avoid the humiliation that the pregnancy sans marriage may bring her. The trial court ruled that the marriage between petitioner and respondent is not valid because it was solemnized without a marriage license. However, it declared petitioner as the natural father of the child, and thus obliged to give her support.  The Court of Appeals denied the appeal. Prompted by the  rule that a marriage is presumed to be subsisting until a judicial declaration of nullity has been made, the appellate court declared that the child was born during the subsistence and validity of the parties’ marriage.  In addition, the Court of Appeals frowned upon petitioner’s refusal to undergo DNA testing to prove the paternity and filiation, as well as his refusal to state with certainty the last time he had carnal knowledge with respondent, saying that petitioner’s forgetfulness should not be used as a vehicle to relieve him of his obligation and reward him of his being irresponsible. Moreover, the Court of Appeals noted the affidavit dated 7 April 1998 executed by  petitioner, wherein he voluntarily admitted that he is the legitimate father of the child. The appellate court also ruled that since this case is an action for support, it was improper for the trial court to declare the marriage of petitioner and respondent as null and void in the very same case.  There was no participation of the State, through the prosecuting attorney or fiscal, to see to it that there is no collusion between the parties, as required by the Family Code in actions for declaration of nullity of a marriage.  The burden of proof to show that the marriage is void rests upon petitioner, but it is a matter that can be raised in an action for declaration of nullity, and not in the instant proceedings.

ISSUE: Whether or not their marriage is valid.

HELD: The SC holds that the trial court had jurisdiction to determine the validity of the marriage between petitioner and respondent. The validity of a void marriage may be collaterally attacked.

Under the Family Code, the absence of any of the essential or formal requisites shall render the marriage void ab initio, whereas a defect in any of the essential requisites shall render the marriage voidable.  In the instant case, it is clear from the evidence presented that petitioner and respondent did not have a marriage license when they contracted their marriage.  Instead, they presented an affidavit stating that they had been living together for more than five years. However, respondent herself in effect admitted the falsity of the affidavit when she was asked during cross-examination. The falsity of the affidavit cannot be considered as a mere irregularity in the formal requisites of marriage.  The law dispenses with the marriage license requirement for a man and a woman who have lived together and exclusively with each other as husband and wife for a continuous and unbroken period of at least five years before the marriage. The aim of this provision is to avoid exposing the parties to humiliation, shame and embarrassment concomitant with the scandalous cohabitation of persons outside a valid marriage due to the publication of every applicant’s name for a marriage license.  In the instant case, there was no scandalous cohabitation to protect; in fact, there was no cohabitation at all.  The false affidavit which petitioner and respondent executed so they could push through with the marriage has no value whatsoever; it is a mere scrap of paper.  They were not exempt from the marriage license requirement. Their failure to obtain and present a marriage license renders their marriage void ab initio.

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