Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recognition of foreign divorce - G.R. No. 138322

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First Issue:
Proving the Divorce Between Respondent and Editha Samson

Petitioner assails the trial court's recognition of the divorce between respondent and Editha Samson. Citing Adong v. Cheong Seng Gee,20 petitioner argues that the divorce decree, like any other foreign judgment, may be given recognition in this jurisdiction only upon proof of the existence of (1) the foreign law allowing absolute divorce and (2) the alleged divorce decree itself. She adds that respondent miserably failed to establish these elements.

Petitioner adds that, based on the first paragraph of Article 26 of the Family Code, marriages solemnized abroad are governed by the law of the place where they were celebrated (the lex loci celebrationist). In effect, the Code requires the presentation of the foreign law to show the conformity of the marriage in question to the legal requirements of the place where the marriage was performed.

At the outset, we lay the following basic legal principles as the take-off points for our discussion. Philippine law does not provide for absolute divorce; hence, our courts cannot grant it.21 A marriage between two Filipinos cannot be dissolved even by a divorce obtained abroad, because of Articles 1522 and 1723 of the Civil Code.24 In mixed marriages involving a Filipino and a foreigner, Article 2625 of the Family Code allows the former to contract a subsequent marriage in case the divorce is "validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry."26 A divorce obtained abroad by a couple, who are both aliens, may be recognized in the Philippines, provided it is consistent with their respective national laws.27

A comparison between marriage and divorce, as far as pleading and proof are concerned, can be made. Van Dorn v. Romillo Jr. decrees that "aliens may obtain divorces abroad, which may be recognized in the Philippines, provided they are valid according to their national law."28 Therefore, before a foreign divorce decree can be recognized by our courts, the party pleading it must prove the divorce as a fact and demonstrate its conformity to the foreign law allowing it.29 Presentation solely of the divorce decree is insufficient.

Divorce as a Question of Fact

Petitioner insists that before a divorce decree can be admitted in evidence, it must first comply with the registration requirements under Articles 11, 13 and 52 of the Family Code. These articles read as follows:

"ART. 11. Where a marriage license is required, each of the contracting parties shall file separately a sworn application for such license with the proper local civil registrar which shall specify the following:

x x x x x x x x x

"(5) If previously married, how, when and where the previous marriage was dissolved or annulled;

x x x x x x x x x

"ART. 13. In case either of the contracting parties has been previously married, the applicant shall be required to furnish, instead of the birth of baptismal certificate required in the last preceding article, the death certificate of the deceased spouse or the judicial decree of annulment or declaration of nullity of his or her previous marriage. x x x.

"ART. 52. The judgment of annulment or of absolute nullity of the 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 their persons."

Respondent, on the other hand, argues that the Australian divorce decree is a public document – a written official act of an Australian family court. Therefore, it requires no further proof of its authenticity and due execution.

Respondent is getting ahead of himself. Before a foreign judgment is given presumptive evidentiary value, the document must first be presented and admitted in evidence.30 A divorce obtained abroad is proven by the divorce decree itself. Indeed the best evidence of a judgment is the judgment itself.31 The decree purports to be a written act or record of an act of an officially body or tribunal of a foreign country.32

Under Sections 24 and 25 of Rule 132, on the other hand, a writing or document may be proven as a public or official record of a foreign country by either (1) an official publication or (2) a copy thereof attested33 by the officer having legal custody of the document. If the record is not kept in the Philippines, such copy must be (a) accompanied by a certificate issued by the proper diplomatic or consular officer in the Philippine foreign service stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept and (b) authenticated by the seal of his office.34

The divorce decree between respondent and Editha Samson appears to be an authentic one issued by an Australian family court.35 However, appearance is not sufficient; compliance with the aforemetioned rules on evidence must be demonstrated.

Fortunately for respondent's cause, when the divorce decree of May 18, 1989 was submitted in evidence, counsel for petitioner objected, not to its admissibility, but only to the fact that it had not been registered in the Local Civil Registry of Cabanatuan City.36 The trial court ruled that it was admissible, subject to petitioner's qualification.37Hence, it was admitted in evidence and accorded weight by the judge. Indeed, petitioner's failure to object properly rendered the divorce decree admissible as a written act of the Family Court of Sydney, Australia.38

Compliance with the quoted articles (11, 13 and 52) of the Family Code is not necessary; respondent was no longer bound by Philippine personal laws after he acquired Australian citizenship in 1992.39 Naturalization is the legal act of adopting an alien and clothing him with the political and civil rights belonging to a citizen.40 Naturalized citizens, freed from the protective cloak of their former states, don the attires of their adoptive countries. By becoming an Australian, respondent severed his allegiance to the Philippines and the vinculum juris that had tied him to Philippine personal laws.

Burden of Proving Australian Law

Respondent contends that the burden to prove Australian divorce law falls upon petitioner, because she is the party challenging the validity of a foreign judgment. He contends that petitioner was satisfied with the original of the divorce decree and was cognizant of the marital laws of Australia, because she had lived and worked in that country for quite a long time. Besides, the Australian divorce law is allegedly known by Philippine courts: thus, judges may take judicial notice of foreign laws in the exercise of sound discretion.

We are not persuaded. The burden of proof lies with "the party who alleges the existence of a fact or thing necessary in the prosecution or defense of an action."41 In civil cases, plaintiffs have the burden of proving the material allegations of the complaint when those are denied by the answer; and defendants have the burden of proving the material allegations in their answer when they introduce new matters.42 Since the divorce was a defense raised by respondent, the burden of proving the pertinent Australian law validating it falls squarely upon him.

It is well-settled in our jurisdiction that our courts cannot take judicial notice of foreign laws.43 Like any other facts, they must be alleged and proved. Australian marital laws are not among those matters that judges are supposed to know by reason of their judicial function.44 The power of judicial notice must be exercised with caution, and every reasonable doubt upon the subject should be resolved in the negative.

Second Issue:
Respondent's Legal Capacity to Remarry

Petitioner contends that, in view of the insufficient proof of the divorce, respondent was legally incapacitated to marry her in 1994.

Hence, she concludes that their marriage was void ab initio.

Respondent replies that the Australian divorce decree, which was validly admitted in evidence, adequately established his legal capacity to marry under Australian law.

Respondent's contention is untenable. In its strict legal sense, divorce means the legal dissolution of a lawful union for a cause arising after marriage. But divorces are of different types. The two basic ones are (1) absolute divorce ora vinculo matrimonii and (2) limited divorce or a mensa et thoro. The first kind terminates the marriage, while the second suspends it and leaves the bond in full force.45 There is no showing in the case at bar which type of divorce was procured by respondent.

Respondent presented a decree nisi or an interlocutory decree – a conditional or provisional judgment of divorce. It is in effect the same as a separation from bed and board, although an absolute divorce may follow after the lapse of the prescribed period during which no reconciliation is effected.46

Even after the divorce becomes absolute, the court may under some foreign statutes and practices, still restrict remarriage. Under some other jurisdictions, remarriage may be limited by statute; thus, the guilty party in a divorce which was granted on the ground of adultery may be prohibited from remarrying again. The court may allow a remarriage only after proof of good behavior.47

On its face, the herein Australian divorce decree contains a restriction that reads:

"1. A party to a marriage who marries again before this decree becomes absolute (unless the other party has died) commits the offence of bigamy."48

This quotation bolsters our contention that the divorce obtained by respondent may have been restricted. It did not absolutely establish his legal capacity to remarry according to his national law. Hence, we find no basis for the ruling of the trial court, which erroneously assumed that the Australian divorce ipso facto restored respondent's capacity to remarry despite the paucity of evidence on this matter.

We also reject the claim of respondent that the divorce decree raises a disputable presumption or presumptive evidence as to his civil status based on Section 48, Rule 3949 of the Rules of Court, for the simple reason that no proof has been presented on the legal effects of the divorce decree obtained under Australian laws.

Significance of the Certificate of Legal Capacity

Petitioner argues that the certificate of legal capacity required by Article 21 of the Family Code was not submitted together with the application for a marriage license. According to her, its absence is proof that respondent did not have legal capacity to remarry.

We clarify. To repeat, the legal capacity to contract marriage is determined by the national law of the party concerned. The certificate mentioned in Article 21 of the Family Code would have been sufficient to establish the legal capacity of respondent, had he duly presented it in court. A duly authenticated and admitted certificate is prima facie evidence of legal capacity to marry on the part of the alien applicant for a marriage license.50

As it is, however, there is absolutely no evidence that proves respondent's legal capacity to marry petitioner. A review of the records before this Court shows that only the following exhibits were presented before the lower court: (1) for petitioner: (a) Exhibit "A" – Complaint;51 (b) Exhibit "B" – Certificate of Marriage Between Rederick A. Recto (Filipino-Australian) and Grace J. Garcia (Filipino) on January 12, 1994 in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija;52 (c) Exhibit "C" – Certificate of Marriage Between Rederick A. Recio (Filipino) and Editha D. Samson (Australian) on March 1, 1987 in Malabon, Metro Manila;53 (d) Exhibit "D" – Office of the City Registrar of Cabanatuan City Certification that no information of annulment between Rederick A. Recto and Editha D. Samson was in its records;54 and (e) Exhibit "E" – Certificate of Australian Citizenship of Rederick A. Recto;55 (2) for respondent: (Exhibit "1" – Amended Answer;56 (b) Exhibit "S" – Family Law Act 1975 Decree Nisi of Dissolution of Marriage in the Family Court of Australia;57 (c) Exhibit "3" – Certificate of Australian Citizenship of Rederick A. Recto;58 (d) Exhibit "4" – Decree Nisi of Dissolution of Marriage in the Family Court of Australia Certificate;59 and Exhibit "5" – Statutory Declaration of the Legal Separation Between Rederick A. Recto and Grace J. Garcia Recio since October 22, 1995.60

Based on the above records, we cannot conclude that respondent, who was then a naturalized Australian citizen, was legally capacitated to marry petitioner on January 12, 1994. We agree with petitioner's contention that the courta quo erred in finding that the divorce decree ipso facto clothed respondent with the legal capacity to remarry without requiring him to adduce sufficient evidence to show the Australian personal law governing his status; or at the very least, to prove his legal capacity to contract the second marriage.

Neither can we grant petitioner's prayer to declare her marriage to respondent null and void on the ground of bigamy. After all, it may turn out that under Australian law, he was really capacitated to marry petitioner as a direct result of the divorce decree. Hence, we believe that the most judicious course is to remand this case to the trial court to receive evidence, if any, which show petitioner's legal capacity to marry petitioner. Failing in that, then the court a quo may declare a nullity of the parties' marriage on the ground of bigamy, there being already in evidence two existing marriage certificates, which were both obtained in the Philippines, one in Malabon, Metro Manila dated March 1, 1987 and the other, in Cabanatuan City dated January 12, 1994.

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