• Claims of nullity of marriage shouldn’t be taken at face value

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    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    I found out that my wife was already married to another guy before she married me. I threatened to press criminal charges for bigamy but she brushed it aside, claiming that her first marriage and our second marriage are both void so there is no bigamy. Is she correct?
    Corby

    Dear Corby,
    Bigamy is a crime punishable under our Revised Penal Code (RPC) by prision mayor or imprisonment from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years. It is imposed upon 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, RPC).

    In order to establish bigamy, it must be shown that (1) the offender has been legally married; (2) the first marriage has not been legally dissolved or the absent spouse has not been judicially declared presumptively dead, as the case may be; (3) the offender contracts a subsequent marriage; and (4) the subsequent marriage would have been valid had it not been for the existence of the first (Marbella-Bobis vs. Bobis, 336 SCRA 747).

    Your wife claims that a complaint against her for bigamy will not stand in court on the basis of the alleged nullity of both her first and second marriages. It is true that this may be used as a defense in a prosecution for bigamy. There are conditions that must be satisfied, however.

    It is a well-settled rule that a declaration of the absolute nullity of the marriage is required before it can be used as a defense in a prosecution for the crime of bigamy. This is in line with the provision found in our Family Code, which states that “the absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.” Pursuant to the foregoing, our Supreme Court explicitly held in a number of cases that judicial declaration of nullity is required before a valid subsequent marriage can be contracted; or else, what transpires is a bigamous marriage, reprehensible and immoral (People vs. Otduhan, G.R. No. 191566, July 17, 2013). Thus, the alleged nullity of the first marriage of your wife, on its own, may not be admitted as a defense absent a judicial declaration of nullity.

    As to the alleged nullity of your marriage to her, or her second marriage, it is indeed a defense in a prosecution for bigamy. The fourth element of the crime of bigamy requires that the subsequent marriage should have been valid if not for the existence of the first marriage. This means the subsequent marriage must have all the requisites of a valid marriage, and it is only rendered void by the existence of the first marriage. Thus, a bigamy case will not prosper if the second marriage is void for reasons other than the existence of a prior marriage.

    Nevertheless, claims of nullity of marriage are not to be believed on its face. The policy of our State tilts in favor of legitimacy of marriage and it is presumed that a marriage is valid (Alcantara vs. Alcantara, 531 SCRA 446). It is up to the party asserting the nullity of a marriage to prove that his or her claim is real and is supported by law. Hence, it is incumbent upon your wife to prove that your marriage to her is void. Mere assertion would not suffice as a defense in a prosecution for bigamy.

    We hope our opinion has sufficiently answered your concern. 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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