Bigamy proved if ‘offender’ legally married before subsequent marriage

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Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My wife left me when she found out that I had married another woman before we got married.  Worse, she is planning to sue me for bigamy. She would not listen to my explanation that it was not really a marriage, because we just signed documents and that I did not even know if they were registered.  It was just a dare among myself, my former girlfriend and our barkada (gang), and it was more of a joke than an actual marriage. May I know what defense can I raise if my wife actually files a bigamy case against me?
Drake

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Dear Drake,
Bigamy is a crime committed by a person who contracts a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been judicially declared as presumptively dead (Art. 349, Revised Penal Code). As with any other crimes, it is necessary to establish all its elements before a person may be convicted.

In bigamy, one of the elements that must be proven or shown is the fact that the offender has been legally married prior to his subsequent marriage.  Notice that what is required is not just any marriage, but a legal one.

Under the Family Code, one of the formal requisites of marriage is a marriage ceremony. Such requirement is complied with via the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of no fewer than two witnesses of legal age (Art. 3(3), Ibid.). No other prescribed form or religious rite for the solemnization of the marriage is required (Art. 6, Id.). Being a formal requisite, the marriage ceremony requirement must be complied with. Its absence is fatal and will render a marriage void (Art. 4, Id.).

The ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) in the case of People vs. Morigo (G.R. No. 145226. February 06, 2004) is also instructive.  In this case, the SC  found that the accused cannot be convicted of bigamy because the alleged first marriage took place by merely signing a marriage contract, and therefore void.  In fact, it even went so far as to declare that where no marriage ceremony at all was performed by a duly authorized solemnizing officer, the merely private act of signing a marriage contract bears no semblance to a valid marriage and thus, needs no judicial declaration of nullity.  Such act alone cannot be deemed to constitute an ostensibly valid marriage for which petitioner might be held liable for bigamy unless he first secures a judicial declaration of nullity before he contracts a subsequent marriage.

In your case, you mentioned that you just signed documents on your first marriage.  This information casts doubt on the validity of your alleged first marriage as mere signing of documents falls short of the marriage ceremony requirement.  Such fact, if established, can serve as your defense should your wife file a bigamy case against you.

Please bear in mind that this opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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