Difficulty not incapacity

This is another case of marriage sought to be declared void because of the supposed psychological incapacity of a spouse. As enshrined in the Constitution and in several other cases, the Supreme Court once again ruled that in case of doubt, the sanctity of marriage and the unity of the family must be preserved and protected.

This is the case of Connie and Sonny who first met at a bank where Connie was applying for a job. At that time, Sonny was already employed in said bank as a credit investigator and was attracted by Connie’s enticing personality. So he lost no time in courting her until they became sweethearts and eventually got married at a church in a first class subdivision.

When they started living together, Connie noticed that Sonny was not so honest, and unreasonably extravagant at the expense of the family welfare. He was also extremely vain physically, spiritually and a compulsive gambler although he had a job, provided money for his family and the land where the family home was built and where he, Connie and children lived until they all became of legal age. And when Sonny’s parents gave him P2.9 million as his share of the proceeds of sale of their home in a posh subdivision, he also used it for the expenses of his family.

Nevertheless Connie could not withstand Sonny’s negative traits especially his extravagance, immaturity, vanity, inability to perform his paternal duties and compulsive gambling. According to her, Sonny was also irresponsible, an easy-going man, guilty of infidelity with an abnormal behavior that made him completely unable to render any help, support or assistance to her, forcing her to work doubly hard to support her family as the sole breadwinner. In fact Sonny was confined at the Metro Psych Facility of a Rehabilitation Institution where his attending psychiatrist, Dr. Naty San Pedro, diagnosed him to be suffering “Pathological Gambling” as manifested by the foregoing observations of Connie.

So Connie filed a Petition for the Declaration of Nullity of her marriage to Sonny before the Regional Trial Court (RTC). At the hearing Connie testified to reiterate her experience with Sonny. She added that Sonny came from a “distraught” family and had a “dysfunctional” childhood because the love, care and protection of his parents was transferred to his brother who was born when he was only five years old. Dra. San Pedro likewise testified and presented her report on the result of her diagnoses of Sonny where she also declared Sonny’s “enduring pattern of behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of our culture which is inflexible and pervasive and has led to significant impairment in their social, occupational and interpersonal relationship.”

After the hearing, the RTC granted the petition and declared the marriage between Connie and Sonny void ab initio on the ground of Sonny’s psychological incapacity. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, however, the RTC decision was reversed and set aside. The CA ruled that the totality of the evidence failed to establish Sonny’s psychological incapacity. The CA said that psychological incapacity is utter and downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and assume the basic marital obligations to live together, observe love, respect and fidelity and render help and support. Mere difficulty, refusal or neglect in the performance of marital obligations or ill will on the part of Sonny is different from incapacity rooted in some debilitating psychological condition or illness. Sonny’s alleged pathological gambling arose after the marriage and in fact Connie admitted that she was not aware of any gambling by Sonny before they got married. He was even a kind and caring person when he was courting her. Was the CA correct?

Yes, said the Supreme Court (SC). The SC ruled that psychological incapacity as a ground to nullify a marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code (FC) refers to no less than a mental – not merely physical – incapacity that causes a party to be truly incognitive of the basic marital covenants.

In this case, the evidence on record shows that Sonny has the capability and ability to perform his duties as husband and father. He had a job and provided money for the family as well as his property and the land where the family home was built. Moreover, Connie and Sonny lived together as husband and wife since their marriage in the company of their four children. In fact, Connie admitted that Sonny brought her to the hospital when she gave birth to all their children.

Connie’s bare claim that Sonny is a pathological gambler, irresponsible and unable to keep a job is not proof that Sonny is psychologically incapacitated.

Psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the FC contemplates an incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and assume basic marital obligations, and is not merely difficulty, refusal or neglect in the performance of marital obligations, or ill will. Dra. San Pedro’ report likewise did not point to a definite cause proving Sonny’s psychological incapacity. She even admitted that she was not the one but another psychologist who conducted the test. Said psychologist was not presented by Connie as a witness. Habitual drunkenness, gambling and failure to find a job, as reported by Dra. San Pedro, are not equivalent to psychological incapacity.

Based on the totality of the evidence therefore, the indissolubility of the marriage tie between Connie and Sonny must be upheld. This is the ruling in the case of Singson vs. Singson, G.R. 210766 Jan. 8, 2018).

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