Civil Law

Rodolfo San Luis vs Felicidad Sagalongos-San Luis

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G.R. No. 133743 – 514 SCRA 294 – Civil Law – Family Code – Retroactive Effect of Article 26 of the Family Code

During his lifetime, Felicisimo San Luis (Rodolfo San Luis’s dad) contracted three marriages. His first marriage was with Virginia Sulit on March 17, 1942 out of which were born six children. On August 11, 1963, Virginia predeceased Felicisimo.

Five years later, on May 1, 1968, Felicisimo married Merry Lee Corwin, with whom he had a son, Tobias. However, on October 15, 1971, Merry Lee, an American citizen, filed a Complaint for Divorce before the Family Court of the First Circuit, State of Hawaii, which issued a Decree Granting Absolute Divorce and Awarding Child Custody on December 14, 1973. On June 20, 1974, Felicisimo married Felicidad San Luis, then surnamed Sagalongos. He had no children with Felicidad but lived with her for 18 years from the time of their marriage up to his death on December 18, 1992. Upon death of his dad, Rodolfo sought the dissolution of Felicisimo’s conjugal partnership assets and the settlement of Felicisimo’s estate. On December 17, 1993, Felicidad filed a petition for letters of administration before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City. Rodolfo filed an opposition as he claimed that Felicidad has no legal personality to file the petition because she was only a mistress of Felicisimo since the latter, at the time of his death, was still legally married to Merry Lee. Felicidad presented the decree of absolute divorce issued by the Family Court of the First Circuit, State of Hawaii, to prove that the marriage of Felicisimo to Merry Lee had already been dissolved. Thus, she claimed that Felicisimo had the legal capacity to marry her by virtue of paragraph 2 Article 26 of the Family Code.

Rodolfo asserted that paragraph 2, Article 26 of the Family Code cannot be given retroactive effect to validate Felicidad’s bigamous marriage with Felicisimo because this would impair vested rights in derogation of Article 256.

ISSUE: Whether or not Felicidad may file for letters of administration over Felicisimo’s estate.

HELD: The divorce decree allegedly obtained by Merry Lee which absolutely allowed Felicisimo to remarry, would have vested Felicidad with the legal personality to file the present petition as Felicisimo’s surviving spouse. However, the records show that there is insufficient evidence to prove the validity of the divorce obtained by Merry Lee as well as the marriage of Felicidad and Felicisimo under the laws of the U.S.A. In Garcia v. Recio, the Court laid down the specific guidelines for pleading and proving foreign law and divorce judgments. It held that presentation solely of the divorce decree is insufficient and that proof of its authenticity and due execution must be presented. Under Sections 24 and 25 of Rule 132, a writing or document may be proven as a public or official record of a foreign country by either (1) an official publication or (2) a copy thereof attested by the officer having legal custody of the document. If the record is not kept in the Philippines, such copy must be (a) accompanied by a certificate issued by the proper diplomatic or consular officer in the Philippine foreign service stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept and (b) authenticated by the seal of his office.

With regard to Felicidad’s marriage to Felicisimo allegedly solemnized in California, U.S.A., she submitted photocopies of the Marriage Certificate and the annotated text of the Family Law Act of California which purportedly show that their marriage was done in accordance with the said law. As stated in Garcia, however, the Court cannot take judicial notice of foreign laws as they must be alleged and proved.

The case should be remanded to the trial court for further reception of evidence on the divorce decree obtained by Merry Lee and the marriage of respondent and Felicisimo.

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