See - G.R. No. 142820
"x x x.
In Garcia v. Recio,19 Van Dorn v. Romillo, Jr.,20 and Llorente v. Court of Appeals,21 we consistently held that a divorce obtained abroad by an alien may be recognized in our jurisdiction, provided such decree is valid according to the national law of the foreigner. Relevant to the present case is Pilapil v. Ibay-Somera,22 where this Court specifically recognized the validity of a divorce obtained by a German citizen in his country, the Federal Republic of Germany. We held in Pilapil that a foreign divorce and its legal effects may be recognized in the Philippines insofar as respondent is concerned in view of the nationality principle in our civil law on the status of persons.
In this case, the divorce decree issued by the German court dated December 16, 1997 has not been challenged by either of the parties. In fact, save for the issue of parental custody, even the trial court recognized said decree to be valid and binding, thereby endowing private respondent the capacity to remarry. Thus, the present controversy mainly relates to the award of the custody of their two children, Carolynne and Alexandra Kristine, to petitioner.
As a general rule, divorce decrees obtained by foreigners in other countries are recognizable in our jurisdiction, but the legal effects thereof, e.g. on custody, care and support of the children, must still be determined by our courts.23 Before our courts can give the effect of res judicata to a foreign judgment, such as the award of custody to petitioner by the German court, it must be shown that the parties opposed to the judgment had been given ample opportunity to do so on grounds allowed under Rule 39, Section 50 of the Rules of Court (now Rule 39, Section 48, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure), to wit:
SEC. 50. Effect of foreign judgments. - The effect of a judgment of a tribunal of a foreign country, having jurisdiction to pronounce the judgment is as follows:
(a) In case of a judgment upon a specific thing, the judgment is conclusive upon the title to the thing;
(b) In case of a judgment against a person, the judgment is presumptive evidence of a right as between the parties and their successors in interest by a subsequent title; but the judgment may be repelled by evidence of a want of jurisdiction, want of notice to the party, collusion, fraud, or clear mistake of law or fact.
It is essential that there should be an opportunity to challenge the foreign judgment, in order for the court in this jurisdiction to properly determine its efficacy. In this jurisdiction, our Rules of Court clearly provide that with respect to actions in personam, as distinguished from actions in rem, a foreign judgment merely constitutes prima facieevidence of the justness of the claim of a party and, as such, is subject to proof to the contrary.24
In the present case, it cannot be said that private respondent was given the opportunity to challenge the judgment of the German court so that there is basis for declaring that judgment as res judicata with regard to the rights of petitioner to have parental custody of their two children. The proceedings in the German court were summary. As to what was the extent of private respondent’s participation in the proceedings in the German court, the records remain unclear. The divorce decree itself states that neither has she commented on the proceedings25 nor has she given her opinion to the Social Services Office.26 Unlike petitioner who was represented by two lawyers, private respondent had no counsel to assist her in said proceedings.27 More importantly, the divorce judgment was issued to petitioner by virtue of the German Civil Code provision to the effect that when a couple lived separately for three years, the marriage is deemed irrefutably dissolved. The decree did not touch on the issue as to who the offending spouse was. Absent any finding that private respondent is unfit to obtain custody of the children, the trial court was correct in setting the issue for hearing to determine the issue of parental custody, care, support and education mindful of the best interests of the children. This is in consonance with the provision in the Child and Youth Welfare Code that the child’s welfare is always the paramount consideration in all questions concerning his care and custody. 28
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