Civil Law

Valerio Kalaw vs Ma. Elena Fernandez (2015)

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G.R. No. 166357 – 750 Phil. 482 – 745 SCRA 512 – Civil Law – Persons and Family Relations – Family Code – Marriage; Void Marriages – Article 36; Psychological Incapacity – Gambling in the Presence of One’s Children

Testimonies of Expert Witnesses as Evaluated by the Trial Court Must Be Given Due Consideration

Burden of Proof in Proving Psychological Incapacity Does Not Solely Lie on Plaintiff

In 1994, Valerio “Tyrone” Kalaw filed a petition to have his marriage with Ma. Elena Fernandez be annulled on the ground that Elena is psychologically incapacitated. The RTC, after hearing the expert witnesses testify in court, eventually granted the petition, but on appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the said decision. Tyrone appealed to the Supreme Court. In September 2011, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the CA. Tyrone filed a motion for reconsideration.

ISSUE: Whether or not the September 2011 decision (657 SCRA 822) should be reversed.

HELD: Yes.

Trial court’s findings of facts should be given due weight

The SC ruled that it misappreciated the findings made by the RTC when the SC reviewed the case in September 2011. The SC ruled that the findings and evaluation by the RTC as the trial court deserved credence because it was in the better position to view and examine the demeanor of the witnesses while they were testifying. The position and role of the trial judge in the appreciation of the evidence showing the psychological incapacity were not to be downplayed but should be accorded due importance and respect. Therefore, it was not proper for the SC to brush aside the opinions tendered by Dr. Cristina Gates, a psychologist, and Fr. Gerard Healy on the ground that their conclusions were solely based on the Tyrone’s version of the events. The conclusions reached by the two expert witnesses because they were largely drawn from the case records and affidavits, and should not anymore be disputed after the RTC itself had accepted the veracity of the Tyrone’s factual premises.

Respondent could also establish the psychological incapacity of the plaintiff spouse

The plaintiff in an annulment case under Article 36 carries the burden to prove the nullity of the marriage, however, the respondent, as the defendant spouse, could also establish the psychological incapacity of the plaintiff spouse if the respondent raised the matter in her/his answer. The courts are justified in declaring a marriage null and void under Article 36 of the Family Code regardless of whether it is the petitioner or the respondent who imputes the psychological incapacity to the other as long as the imputation is fully substantiated with proof. Indeed, psychological incapacity may exist in one party alone or in both of them, and if psychological incapacity of either or both is established, the marriage has to be deemed null and void.

Elena’s excessive mahjong sessions is indicative of her psychological incapacity

In the September 2011 ruling, the SC noted that all the children of Tyrone and Elena testified that although their parents have differences, both took good care of them. However, upon closer look at the testimonies of the children, it was shown that Elena was too addicted to mahjong that she would even bring her children to her mahjong sessions which were so frequent and would last from early in the afternoon to past midnight. The fact that the Elena brought her children with her to her mahjong sessions did not only point to her neglect of parental duties, but also manifested her tendency to expose them to a culture of gambling. Her willfully exposing her children to the culture of gambling on every occasion of her mahjong sessions was a very grave and serious act of subordinating their needs for parenting to the gratification of her own personal and escapist desires. This revealed her wanton disregard for her children’s moral and mental development.

Read full text

Read September 2011 decision: Digest

NOTE: This case is controversial as many would point that this ruling significantly relaxed the application of Article 36 of the Family Code and would thus make annulment of marriages easier. However, SC Spokesperson Atty. Ted Te explained that the ruling in this Kalaw Case is exclusive to this case only. He said, “The SC did not ‘relax’ in all cases the guidelines set forth in its precedents” all of which remain and have not been overturned.

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