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Jose Dayot and Felisa Tecson married each other in November 1986. Their marriage was without a marriage license because they executed a Joint Affidavit of Cohabitation whereby they declared that prior to their intended marriage, they have been cohabiting as husband and wife for at least five years (as required by law). In July 1993 however, Jose Dayot filed a Complaint for Annulment of Marriage and/or Declaration of Nullity of Marriage against Felisa on the ground that in February 1987, he found out that he was defrauded by Felisa into signing a marriage contract and other documents which pertain to their marriage. He claimed that no marriage ceremony happened and that when he signed the marriage documents, he thought he was signing documents for the delivery of certain packages to Felisa.
The Regional Trial Court denied Dayot’s complaint. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the RTC as it ruled that Dayot’s action was already barred by prescription. The CA ratiocinated that an action for annulment based on fraud must be raised within four years from the date of discovery as per the Civil Code.
Dayot filed a motion for reconsideration on the ground that the exemption from obtaining a marriage license – that they had cohabited for at least five years as husband and wife prior to the marriage – was not really complied with. Dayot asserted the falsity of the Affidavit of Cohabitation as in fact, they only began cohabiting in June 1986 or about five months before their marriage in November 1986. This time, the CA ruled in favor of Dayot.
ISSUE: Whether or not the marriage between Dayot and Felisa is valid.
HELD: No. It was established that indeed, Dayot and Felisa only began cohabiting in June 1986. Hence, when they married in November 1986, they had not cohabited for at least five years to warrant their exemption from obtaining a marriage license. Since the content of their affidavit of cohabitation is a falsity, they were not exempt from obtaining a marriage license before marrying each other. Their marriage is thus void ab initio. An action to annul a void ab initio marriage does not prescribe, thus, Dayot was not estopped from questioning the validity of the marriage even if he filed the complaint only in 1993.
SIDE ISSUE: Will equity work in this case considering that, on paper, Dayot was part of the falsity?
In its second assignment of error, the Republic (through the Office of the Solicitor General) puts forth the argument that based on equity, Dayot should be denied relief because he perpetrated the fabrication, and cannot thereby profit from his wrongdoing. This is a misplaced invocation. It must be stated that equity finds no room for application where there is a law. There is a law on the ratification of marital cohabitation, which is set in precise terms under Article 76 of the Civil Code. Nonetheless, the authorities are consistent that the declaration of nullity of the parties’ marriage is without prejudice to their criminal liability.