Which is Which: Annulment or Nullity?

Which is Which: Annulment or Nullity?

Husband and Wife

In our jurisdiction, “a-n-n-u-l-m-e-n-t” is the most abused word relative to talks and gossips about marital separation. It seems that the Filipino culture has adopted the same to simply mean the judicial dissolution of a marriage. Although this may be a rather acceptable definition, I submit that such will never pass judicial scrutiny; especially if the petitioner, in an annulment case, is claiming psychological incapacity on the part of his/her spouse, as a ground for the dissolution of marriage. In short, the use of the term “annulment” becomes a legal misnomer.

Before I elaborate further, allow me to first quote the legal definition of marriage. Article 1 of The Family Code of the Philippines (Family Code) states: “Marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal family life. It is the foundation of the family and an inviolable social institution whose nature, consequences, and incidents are governed by law and not subject to stipulation, except that marriage settlements may fix the property relations during the marriage within the limits provided by this Code.”

The carefully selected words and phrases used by the framers of the Family Code impressed upon me one thing; they intended to cast in stone all marital unions sanctioned by law. Whether such is a legal wonder, or a blunder, the same remains highly debatable. But in a predominantly Catholic country such as ours, this legal definition is but justified for being in accord with the faith. However, phrases such as “special contract of permanent union; inviolable social institution; and not subject to stipulations” which are imbued with numerous obligations and legal ramifications, one would have to think a million times before entering in such special contract; that is to say he/she is aware of this legal definition. Otherwise, the eucharist called marriage is but just another phase in a Filipino’s life.

Legally speaking, the definition of marriage is also the primordial reason why annulment and nullity remain elusive, to the point of being the holy grail, among obdurate couples, already separated in bed and in board.

The question remains. What is the proper petition to file in court to have a marriage dissolved? I qualify. It depends on the facts and ground/s relied upon. And the Family Code is explicit, thus:

Declaration of Nullity of Marriage

“Art. 35.   The following marriages shall be void from the beginning:

  1. Those contracted by any party below eighteen years of age even with the consent of parents or guardians;
  2. Those solemnized by any person not legally authorized to perform marriages unless such marriages were contracted with either or both parties believing in good faith that the solemnizing officer had the legal authority to do so;
  3. Those solemnized without a license, except those covered by the preceding Chapter;
  4. Those bigamous or polygamous marriages not falling under Article 41;
  5. Those contracted through mistake of one contracting party as to the identity of the other; and
  6. Those subsequent marriages that are void under Article 53.

Art. 36.    A marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.

Art. 37.    Marriages between the following are incestuous and void from the beginning, whether the relationship between the parties be legitimate or illegitimate:

  1. Between ascendants and descendants of any degree; and
  2. Between brothers and sisters, whether of the full or half blood.

Art. 38.    The following marriages shall be void from the beginning for reasons of public policy:

  1. Between collateral blood relatives whether legitimate or illegitimate, up to the fourth civil degree;
  2. Between step-parents and step-children;
  3. Between parents-in-law and children-in-law;
  4. Between the adopting parent and the adopted child;
  5. Between the surviving spouse of the adopting parent and the adopted child;
  6. Between the surviving spouse of the adopted child and the adopter;
  7. Between an adopted child and a legitimate child of the adopter;
  8. Between adopted children of the same adopter; and
  9. Between parties where one, with the intention to marry the other, killed that other person’s spouse, or his or her own spouse.

Art. 44.    If both spouses of the subsequent marriage acted in bad faith, said marriage shall be void ab initio and all donations by reason of marriage and testamentary dispositions made by one in favor of the other are revoked by operation of law.

Art. 52.    The judgment of annulment or of absolute nullity of marriage, the partition and distribution of the properties of the spouses, and the delivery of the children’s presumptive legitimes shall be recorded in the appropriate civil registry and registries of property; otherwise, the same shall not affect third persons.

Art. 53.    Either of the former spouses may marry again after compliance with the requirements of the immediately preceding Article; otherwise, the subsequent marriage shall be null and void.”

Annulment of Marriage

“Art. 45.   A marriage may be annulled for any of the following causes, existing at the time of the marriage:

  1. That the party in whose behalf it is sought to have the marriage annulled was eighteen years of age or over but below twenty-one, and the marriage was solemnized without the consent of the parents, guardian or person having substitute parental authority over the party, in that order, unless after attaining the age of twenty-one, such party freely cohabited with the other and both lived together as husband and wife;
  2. That either party was of unsound mind, unless such party afterwards, with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife;
  3. That the consent of either party was obtained by fraud, unless such party afterwards, with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife;
  4. That the consent of either party was obtained by force, intimidation or undue influence, unless the same having disappeared or ceased, such party thereafter freely cohabited with the other as husband and wife;
  5. That either party was physically incapable of consummating the marriage with the other, and such incapacity continues and appears to be incurable; or
  6. That either party was afflicted with a sexually-transmissible disease found to be serious and appears to be incurable.

Art. 46. Any of the following circumstances shall constitute fraud referred to in Number 3 of the preceding Article:

  1. Non-disclosure of a previous conviction by final judgment of the other party of a crime involving moral turpitude;
  2. Concealment by the wife of the fact that at the time of marriage, she was pregnant by a man other than her husband;
  3. Concealment lf sexually transmitted disease, regardless of its nature, existing at the time of the marriage; or
  4. Concealment of drug addiction, habitual alcoholism or homosexuality or lesbianism existing at the time of the marriage.

No other misrepresentation of deceit as to character, health, rank, fortune or chastity shall constitute such fraud as well as give grounds for action for the annulment of marriage.”

The foregoing grounds explicitly enumerated by the Family Code are pretty straightforward save for Art. 44 which should be correlated with the other provisions of the code for better understanding. Unfortunately, such discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

In the end, as long as the marriage is judicially dissolved, who cares about the distinction between annulment and nullity, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. A marriage that is annullable is valid until otherwise declared by the court; whereas a marriage that is void ab initio (subject to declaration of nullity) is considered as having never to have taken place and cannot be the source of rights. The first can be generally ratified or confirmed by free cohabitation or prescription while the other can never be ratified. (Niñal v. Bayadog, G.R. No. 133778, March 14, 2000).

In line with the foregoing, what will then be the legal consequence as regards legitimacy of children? How about the community properties? Or even the insurance proceeds? I will let your imagination run wild as of the time being. All these will be answered in the sequel of this article.


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