Annulment of marriage: A step-by-step guide to annul a marriage
A step-by-step guide on annulment in the Philippines: how to file for it, the grounds for which it will be based upon, and the money you have to shell out.
A step-by-step guide on annulment in the Philippines.
Every couple goes into marriage with the best hopes and blissful dreams of ever after. The sad reality is, marriage does not always have happy endings—or at least not the kind we all see in rom-coms or fairy tales.
Only two countries in the world do not have divorce laws: the Vatican and the Philippines.
The Family Code does allow for legal separation and annulment in the Philippines. While “divorce” seems to be a byword in Hollywood celebrity marriages and movies, an annulment is the only way Filipino couples can legally “end” a marriage. And while divorce is just as grueling a process for a family to go through, an annulment is much more complicated legal procedure, which by the way comes at a hefty cost.
NOTE: This article should not be taken as legal advice and is meant only for research and information.
Grounds for annulment in the Philippines
Article 45 of the Family Code establishes the allowable grounds for annulment in the Philippines. A spouse should have a strong, legal ground before he or she can petition for the marriage to be annulled or be declared null and void from the beginning.
Divorce means dissolution of marriage; annulment means the marriage is void, from the beginning. Simply put, a null marriage means there was no marriage at all.
From psychological incapacity to fraud, and underage marriage, there should be a specific, legal ground for a spouse to initiate a petition and open an annulment case. Thus begins the tedious process of annulment.
Atty. Mianol P. Macam gives us an idea of the process of annulment in the Philippines, in a step-by-step guide.
Annulment in the Philippines: Step-by-step guide
STEP 1: Consult a lawyer.
“In the Philippines, annulment or declaration of nullity of marriage can only be obtained through a judicial decree. It cannot be secured extra-judicially,” Atty. Macam explains. A petition for annulment or declaration of nullity of marriage has to be filed before the Regional Trial Court, and you will have to be represented by an officer of the court, a lawyer.
Discuss the legal grounds for your annulment, and seek a lawyer’s advice regarding the whole process you will have to go through. Ask away, and do not hold off any question or concerns you have in mind.
Before formally hiring a lawyer or attorney, you will have to consult first and check if you have legal grounds to be able to file for a Petition for Annulment of Marriage.
While there are available materials online that explains the process of annulment, plus all the tales and anecdotes from friends and family, the best way to understand your own case is by discussing it with your lawyer. Go on and do your own preliminary research, ask around and read on, as these would give you a pretty good picture of what you are about to get into. But legal advice is still your best shot.
“It is always best to consult a lawyer who is an expert in Family Law, regarding an annulment or declaration of nullity of marriage,” Atty. Macam explains. “Trying to short cut the process sometimes only makes the legal work more tedious or more expensive.”
STEP 2: Hire the lawyer.
Choosing a good lawyer is the most important part of the annulment process. Your lawyer will represent you and he or she will ensure that due process is observed and the substantial grounds are determined and proven, according to the law, Atty. Macam stresses.
You should also consider the “financial fit” of the legal services you are seeking and your budget, and that everything is aligned with your own timetable. Of course, you need to consider the cost, too.
You should be able to trust your lawyer, and make sure that he or she represents your best interest. Ask for referrals from friends or colleagues who can attest the lawyer’s credibility and record, and make sure you do a background check. Do not put your money on someone you found on the Internet (or worse, social media and ads).
“A lawyer will protect the interest of her client, kaya huwag lang maniwala sa sabi-sabi,” Atty. Macam reiterates.
When you do come to a final choice, make sure you have everything in writing, and everything is documented.
STEP 3: Go through a psychological evaluation.
After signing the contract with your lawyer, a psychological evaluation will be underway.
In the Philippines, the most common ground for annulment is psychological incapacity. This will mean written tests, consults and interviews that will determine your personality and your relationship with your spouse and the dynamics of your marriage.
This is where you will have to thresh out your marital history and everything else about your married life. This will form the basis of the petition and the psychological evaluation.
STEP 4: Filing the petition.
The psychologist will release a written psychological evaluation, which will be given to your lawyer. Your lawyer will proceed to draft the petition and file this in court.
In situations where one spouse is not in the Philippines (with OFWs, for example), the petition can be filed initially without the psychological evaluation, but must still be submitted before court proceedings.
The petition will be drafted and after your approval, it will be filed before the Office of the Executive Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court, and fees will be paid. It will go through the process of being assigned to a judge by raffle which is open to the public.
According to Atty. Raymond Fortun, in a TV interview, he has seen cases in the filing stage that took three years before getting approved due to several reasons, including court scheduling.
STEP 5: Court procedure begins.
The respondent (which means the other spouse) will be summoned by the assigned Clerk of Court of the RTC to appear in court. This means he or she will have to be represented by a lawyer, as well. What follows will be a collusion investigation and pre-trial conference, and on to the Trial Proper.
The court will also issue an order asking the prosecutor assigned to the court to conduct a collusion investigation. This will determine if the petitioner and respondent (the couple) conspired to file the petition for annulment.
According to Philippine law, both parties should not agree or collude to an annulment, unlike in other countries where there is consensual or a no-contest divorce. If collusion is proven, the case will not be brought to trial.
On the other hand, the pre-trial process will include mediation, to determine if both parties can agree on certain preliminary issues like support and custody.
Three main witnesses will be involved in the trial: the petitioner, the psychologist, and a corroborating witness, which could be a friend or relative who has first-hand knowledge of the marriage.
In cases where the other spouse fails to appear in court, the trial will still push through. Of course, the whole trial will run smoother and faster if the respondent does not contest, explains Atty. Macam.
Keep in mind, though, that typical annulment cases can drag on for one and a half years or more.
STEP 5: Arriving at the Final Decision.
After every detail of the case has been threshed out and all witnesses have given their testimonies, the judge’s final decision will be rendered. In case either the petitioner or respondent disagrees with the final decision, whether it is granted or denied, there is a 15-day period for a motion for reconsideration that can be filed.
If everything has been agreed upon, the decision then becomes final after 15 days. This will be registered to the Civil Registry of the place of marriage and also in the Civil Registry of the Family Court which grants the petition of annulment, and will be finally circulated to both parties.
STEP 6: The Civil Registrar’s Office will annotate the annulment decree.
Once the annulment is granted, the Office of the Civil Registrar in the city where the marriage took place will have to annotate the decision of the court so anyone can check if the marriage was truly rendered null and void.
Finally, after a judgment of finality is obtained, the petitioner must also prepare to have the judicial decree registered in the Local Civil Registrar where the marriage sought to be annulled or nullified was registered.
The cost of annulment in the Philippines
Cost estimates for annulment in the Philippines range from at least Php250,000.00 to Php 450,000, and sometimes, even higher.
“The range is high especially when there are properties involved, not to mention custodial disputes or claim for support,” explains Atty. Macam. If the other party, contests the annulment case, costs can reach millions of pesos.
“The cost of annulment or declaration of nullity of marriage varies, depending on several factors,” Atty. Macam continues.
“The lawyer will have to look at the difficulty of the case, the marital circumstances of the parties, the value of properties involved, the extent of services rendered, the professional standing of the lawyer, and will also include the labor, distance, time and trouble involved in advocating the case wherein the acceptance of employment in the case will preclude the lawyer to appear in other cases,” she adds.
And then there is the skill, diligence, and experience of the counsel, which will mean higher professional fee. It is the high cost of annulment in the Philippines that is one of the main reasons why some lawmakers are rallying for a divorce law.
“Other lawyers package their services, while some opt to be paid by the services rendered, charging different fees for accepting, for filing, drafting a pleading, for appearing in court or in government agencies, for preparing for trial, for mailing, for transportation costs, for notarial, and other miscellaneous services necessary in accomplishing the legal work,” Atty. Macam elaborates.
The petitioner may also need to prepare payment for securing the psychological services of a psychiatrist or psychologist or an expert witness, and that should also be considered in preparing for the cost of the legal work involved. Even the registration of the final judicial decree of annulment will entail cost, which must be paid by the petitioner.
Church vs. Civil Annulment in the Philippines
There is a difference between church annulment and civil annulment in the Philippines.
Civil annulment is recognized in the court of law. If you were married in the Catholic Church, you will have to file for church annulment as well, especially if you plan to marry again as a Catholic.
In the same way, if you had a church annulment without a civil annulment, you are still legally married (in the eyes of the law). Some only seek one or the other. More importantly, a church annulment requires much less financial strain for the petitioner, as it does not cost as much as a civil annulment.
In January 2018, the House of Representatives approved on its third and final reading, House Bill 6779, that renders church annulment (of any religious sect) as having the same effect as a civil annulment, making the costly legal process unnecessary, according to Leyte Rep. Yedda Kittilstvedt-Romualdez. This quite eradicates the long and costly judicial process of marriage annulment.
SOURCES: Atty. Mianol P. Macam, Associate, Perdigon, Duclan, Lumbos and Associates; Business world online; De Borja Lamorena and Duano Law Offices, Philippines, deborjalaw.com; HG.org; Atty. Raymond Fortun, The Filipino Times