I have been separated from my husband for 10 years now. I was forced to marry when I was 22 years old in a kind of a shotgun wedding. The only people present during the wedding were the solemnizing officer and a relative of my husband. Moreover, the information in my marriage certificate concerning the venue of the ceremony and the witnesses are false. Can I have my marriage annulled?
As a rule, annulment of marriage is frowned upon. The policy of our State tilts in favor of legitimacy of marriage to the extent that a presumption is established that a marriage is valid (Alcantara vs. Alcantara, G.R. No. 167746, August 28, 2007). In effect, a marriage may only be annulled or declared void based on certain grounds specified by law.
One of the grounds for annulment of marriage is vitiation of consent which includes obtaining consent by force, intimidation or undue influence (Article 45 (4), Family Code). Your wedding may fall under this case considering that you mentioned that it was a “shotgun wedding”. However, the specific acts which forced you to consent to the marriage must be weighed against the standards set by law.
Under our law, there is violence when in order to wrest consent, serious or irresistible force is employed. On the other hand, there is inti-midation when one of the contracting parties is compelled by a reasonable and well-grounded fear of an imminent and grave evil upon his person or property, or upon the person or property of his spouse, descendants or ascen-dants, to give his consent (Article 1335, Civil Code). Finally, there is undue influence when a person takes improper advantage of his power over the will of another, depriving the latter of a reason-able freedom of choice (Article 1337, Civil Code).
Another concern that must be taken into consideration is the lapse of time. Annulment of marriage, just like most cases, has a prescriptive period wherein a person is allowed to file an action. After the pres-criptive period lapses, the right to file action expires, and the person can no longer file a petition in court. For vitiation of consent through force, intimidation, or undue influence, the action may only be filed within five (5) years from the time the force, intimidation or undue influence disappeared or ceased (Article 47 (4), Family Code).
Considering that you have been separated from your husband for ten (10) years now, it may be presumed that the prescriptive period to file a petition for annulment on the ground of vitiated consent had prescribed. It is hard to imagine that the force, intimidation, or undue influence, which may have been employed against you, lasted for years and effectively prevented you from filing a petition for annulment sooner.
The false information stated in your marriage certificate is also not a ground to annul your marriage. The grounds for annulment of marriage are enumerated in Article 45 of the Family Code, and neither the existence of errors in the marriage certificate nor its falsity is included in the list. In a case, the Supreme Court even held that the failure to sign a marriage certificate is not a ground to nullify the marriage (De Loria vs. Felix, G.R. No. L-9005, June 20, 1958). A marriage certificate merely serves as evidence to establish the fact that there was a marriage but it is not an indispensable requirement of marriage.
Based on the foregoing, the defects you mentioned may not be used to annul your marriage. Even so, our laws also provide grounds for declaration of nullity of marriage like psychological incapacity of a party to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage existing at the time of celebration of marriage. It contemplates downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and to assume the basic marital obligations; not merely the refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will, on the part of the errant spouse (Republic vs. Encelan, G.R. No. 170022, January 9, 2013). Nonetheless, it is confined to the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage (Santos v. Bedia-Santos, G.R. No. 112019, January 4, 1995).
These matters would require further consultation with a lawyer. For this reason, I invite you to visit our district office nearest to your place of residence so one of our public attorneys can assess your case and examine whether your marriage may be declared void.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appre-ciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org