Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recognition of foreign divorce judgment; proofs of. - G.R. No. 188289

"x x x.

In summary and review, the basic facts are: David and Leticia are US citizens who own properties in the USA and in the Philippines. Leticia obtained a decree of divorce from the Superior Court of California in June 2005 wherein the court awarded all the properties in the USA to Leticia. With respect to their properties in the Philippines, Leticiafiled a petition for judicial separation ofconjugal properties.

At the outset, the trial court erred in recognizing the divorce decree which severed the bond of marriage between the parties. In Corpuz v. Sto. Tomas,13 we stated that:

The starting point in any recognition of a foreign divorce judgment is the acknowledgment that our courts do not take judicial notice of foreign judgments and laws. Justice Herrera explained that, as a rule, "no sovereign is bound to give effect within its dominion to a judgment rendered by a tribunal of another country." This means that the foreign judgment and its authenticity must beproven as facts under our rules on evidence, together with the alien’s applicable national law to show the effect of the judgment on the alien himself or herself. The recognition may be made in an action instituted specifically for the purpose or in another action where a party invokes the foreign decree as an integral aspect of his claim or defense.14

The requirements of presenting the foreign divorce decree and the national law of the foreigner must comply with our Rules of Evidence. Specifically, for Philippine courts to recognize a foreign judgment relating to the status of a marriage, a copy of the foreign judgment may be admitted in evidence and proven as a fact under Rule 132, Sections 24 and 25, in relation to Rule 39, Section 48(b) of the Rules of Court.15

Under Section 24 of Rule 132, the record of public documents of a sovereign authority or tribunal may be proved by: (1) an official publication thereof or (2) a copy attested by the officer having the legal custody thereof. Such official publication or copy must be accompanied, if the record is not kept in the Philippines, with a certificate that the attesting officer has the legal custody thereof. The certificate may be issued by any of the authorized Philippine embassy or consular officials stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept, and authenticated by the seal of his office. The attestation must state, in substance, that the copy is a correct copy of the original, or a specific part thereof, asthe case may be, and must be under the official seal of the attesting officer.

Section 25 of the same Rule states that whenever a copy of a document or record is attested for the purpose of evidence, the attestation must state, in substance, that the copy is a correct copy of the original, or a specific part thereof, as the case may be. The attestation must be under the official seal of the attesting officer, if there be any, or if hebe the clerk of a court having a seal, under the seal of such court.

Based on the records, only the divorce decree was presented in evidence. The required certificates to prove its authenticity, as well as the pertinent California law on divorce were not presented.

It may be noted that in Bayot v. Court of Appeals,16 we relaxed the requirement on certification where we held that "[petitioner therein] was clearly an American citizenwhen she secured the divorce and that divorce is recognized and allowed in any of the States of the Union, the presentation of a copy of foreign divorce decree duly authenticatedby the foreign court issuing said decree is, as here, sufficient." In this case however, it appears that there is no seal from the office where the divorce decree was obtained.

Even if we apply the doctrine of processual presumption17 as the lower courts did with respect to the property regime of the parties, the recognition of divorce is entirely a different matter because, to begin with, divorce is not recognized between Filipino citizens in the Philippines. Absent a valid recognition of the divorce decree, it follows that the parties are still legally married in the Philippines. The trial court thus erred in proceeding directly to liquidation.

As a general rule, any modification in the marriage settlements must be made before the celebration of marriage. An exception to this rule is allowed provided that the modification isjudicially approved and refers only to the instances provided in Articles 66,67, 128, 135 and 136 of the Family Code.18

x x x."