Live In. Marriage. Psychological Incapacity?

Generally, cases decided by the Supreme Court involving annulment of marriage based on psychological incapacity involve situations where the couple married, lived together, and one spouse subsequently discovers the other spouse’s psychological incapacity to comply with his or her marital obligations.

In Renato Reyes So vs. Lorna Valera, G.R. No. 150677,  June 5, 2009, the Supreme Court was faced with the unique situation where the husband and the wife were in a common law relationship for 18 long years, had 3 children, and then got married. The husband subsequently filed a petition for annulment of marriage based on his wife’s alleged psychological incapacity.

Renato and Lorna first met in 1973 and lived together as husband and wife, without the benefit of marriage, before they got married in 1991. In the course of their relationship, they had three (3) children (born in 1975, 1978 and 1984) and established a business.

On May 14, 1996, Renato filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) a petition for the declaration of the nullity of his marriage with Lorna. He alleged that their marriage was null and void for want of the essential and formal requisites. He also claimed that Lorna was psychologically incapacitated to exercise the essential obligations of marriage, as shown by the following circumstances: Lorna failed and refused to cohabit and make love to him; did not love and respect him; did not remain faithful to him; did not give him emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological help and support; failed and refused to have a family domicile; and failed and refused to enter into a permanent union and establish conjugal and family life with him.

The RTC nullified the marriage of Renato and Lorna in its decision of November 8, 1999. The RTC concluded that Lorna was psychologically incapacitated to comply with her martial obligations.

The Republic of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General, appealed the RTC decision to the Court of Appeals (CA). The CA, in its Decision dated July 4, 2001, reversed and set aside the RTC decision and dismissed the petition for lack of merit.

The CA ruled that Renato failed to prove Lorna’s psychological incapacity.  According to the CA, Lorna’s character, faults, and defects did not constitute psychological incapacity warranting the nullity of the parties’ marriage. The CA reasoned out that while Lorna “appears to be a less than ideal mother to her children, and loving wife to her husband,” these flaws were not physical manifestations of psychological illness. The CA further added that although Lorna’s condition was clinically identified by an expert witness to be an “Adjustment Disorder,” it was not established that such disorder was the root cause of her incapacity to fulfill the essential marital obligations. The prosecution also failed to establish that Lorna’s disorder was incurable and permanent in such a way as to disable and/or incapacitate Lorna from complying with obligations essential to marriage.

The CA likewise held that Lorna’s hostile attitude towards Renato when the latter came home late was “a normal reaction of an ordinary housewife under a similar situation”; and her subsequent refusal to cohabit with him was not due to any psychological condition, but due to the fact that she no longer loved him.  Finally, the CA concluded that the declaration of nullity of a marriage was not proper when the psychological disorder does not meet the guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court in the case of Molina.

Renato moved to reconsider the decision, but the CA denied his motion in its resolution dated October 18, 2001.

The Supreme Court agreed with the CA and ruled that the totality of evidence presented by Ramon failed to establish Lorna’s psychological incapacity to perform the essential marital obligations. The Supreme Court did not give much credence to the testimony and report of Renato’s expert witness.    According to the Supreme Court:

Our own examination of the psychologist’s testimony and conclusions leads us to conclude that they are not sufficiently in-depth and comprehensive to warrant the conclusion that a psychological incapacity existed that prevented the respondent from complying with the essential marital obligations of marriage. In the first place, the facts on which the psychologist based her conclusions were all derived from statements by the petitioner whose bias in favor of his cause cannot be doubted. It does not appear to us that the psychologist read and interpreted the facts related to her with the awareness that these facts could be slanted. In this sense, we say her reading may not at all be completely fair in its assessment. We say this while fully aware that the psychologist appeared at the petitioner’s bidding and the arrangement between them was not pro bono. While this circumstance does not disqualify the psychologist for reasons of bias, her reading of the facts, her testimony, and her conclusions must be read carefully with this circumstance and the source of the facts in mind.

In examining the psychologist’s Report, we find the “Particulars” and the “Psychological Conclusions” disproportionate with one another; the conclusions appear to be exaggerated extrapolations, derived as they are from isolated incidents, rather than from continuing patterns. The “particulars” are, as it were, snapshots, rather than a running account of the respondent’s life from which her whole life is totally judged. Thus, we do not see her psychological assessment to be comprehensive enough to be reliable. . .

As against the negatives in viewing the respondent, we note that she lived with the petitioner for 18 years and begot children with him born in 1975, 1978 and 1984 – developments that show a fair level of stability in the relationship and a healthy degree of intimacy between the parties for some eleven (11) years. She finished her Dentistry and joined her husband in the communications business – traits that do not at all indicate an irresponsible attitude, especially when read with the comment that she had been strict with employees and in business affairs. The petitioner’s Memorandum itself is very revealing when, in arguing that the Marriage Contract was a sham, the petitioner interestingly alleged that (referring to 1987) “[S]ince at that time, the relationship between the petitioner and respondent was going well,and future marriage between the two was not an impossibility, the petitioner signed these documents.”

The Supreme Court also noted that there was no proof that Lorna’s psychological disorder was incurable:

. . . the psychologist’s testimony itself glaringly failed to show that the respondent’s behavioral disorder was medically or clinically permanent or incurable as established jurisprudence requires. Neither did the psychologist testify that the disorder was grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage. . .

In Molina, we ruled that “mild characterological peculiarities, mood changes and occasional emotional outbursts cannot be accepted as indicative of psychological incapacity. The illness must be shown as downright incapacity or inability, not a refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will. In other words, the root cause should be a natal or supervening disabling factor in the person, an adverse integral element in the personality structure that effectively incapacitates the person from really accepting and thereby complying with the obligations essential to marriage.” In the present case, the psychologist simply narrated adverse “snapshots” of the respondent’s life showing her alleged failure to meet her marital duties, but did not convincingly prove her permanent incapacity to meet her marital duties and responsibilities; the root or psychological illness that gave rise to this incapacity; and that this psychological illness and consequent incapacity existed at the time the marriage was celebrated.

Given the foreoging, the Supreme Court ruled that based on the evidence, psychological incapacity was not proved:

Shorn of any reference to psychology, we conclude that we have a case here of parties who have very human faults and frailties; who have been together for some time; and who are now tired of each other. If in fact the respondent does not want to provide the support expected of a wife, the cause is not necessarily a grave and incurable psychological malady whose effects go as far as to affect her capacity to provide marital support promised and expected when the marital knot was tied. To be tired and to give up on one’s situation and on one’s husband are not necessarily signs of psychological illness; neither can falling out of love be so labeled. When these happen, the remedy for some is to cut the marital knot to allow the parties to go their separate ways. This simple remedy, however, is not available to us under our laws. Ours is still a limited remedy that addresses only a very specific situation – a relationship where no marriage could have validly been concluded because the parties, or one of them, by reason of a grave and incurable psychological illness existing when the marriage was celebrated, did not appreciate the obligations of marital life and, thus, could not have validly entered into a marriage. Outside of this situation, this Court is powerless to provide any permanent remedy.