Psychological incapacity ground to nullify marriage

Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My sister is having marital problems for quite some time now and she is thinking of filing a case to nullify her marriage on the basis of psychological incapacity. She came to consider this when some of her friends told her that her husband may be regarded as psychologically incapacitated because he is addicted to gambling and, worse, he has consistently failed to provide support for her and their 3-year-old son. Is this true? Is there a specific definition or explanation of what psychological incapacity is really all about?

Dear Aldey,
Psychological incapacity serves as a ground for the nullity of marriage. This is explicitly stated under Article 36 of the Family Code of the Philippines: “A marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”

Although the term psychological incapacity has not been particularly defined under the law, our courts have held that this must be characterized by (a) gravity, (b) juridical antecedence, and (c) incurability in order to serve as a basis for nullity of marriage. As held by the Supreme Court (SC): “x x x The incapacity must be grave or serious such that the party would be incapable of carrying out the ordinary duties required in marriage; it must be rooted in the history of the party antedating the marriage, although the overt manifestations may emerge only after the marriage; and it must be incurable or, even if it were otherwise, the cure would be beyond the means of the party involved. x x x” (Santos vs Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 112019 January 4, 1995, ponente, retired SC Associate Justice Jose Vitug).

With this in mind, we submit that mere addiction to gambling and failure to provide support to one’s spouse and his child cannot be conclusively equated to a party’s psychological incapacity. His way of behavior must be so severe and that there is no hope for cure to it, or even if there is, it is beyond his means. Of equal importance is to demonstrate that the erring party’s undesirable behavior is deeply rooted in some debilitating psychological condition, not just a mere refusal or unwillingness to assume the essential obligations of marriage (Perez-Ferraris vs Ferraris, G.R. No. 162368, July 17, 2006, ponente, retired SC Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago). These are the considerations that your sister must clearly establish in order for her to effectively pursue the nullity of her marriage.

In addition, it would be of great help if the incapacity of your brother-in-law be substantiated by findings and conclusions of expert witnesses. While our courts are not bound to make use of the recommendations of expert witnesses, their opinions are desirable in deciding cases based on this ground. As elucidated by the High Court: “x x x As all people may have certain quirks and idiosyncrasies, or isolated characteristics associated with certain personality disorders, there is hardly any doubt that the intendment of the law has been to confine the meaning of ‘psychological incapacity’ to the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. It is for this reason that the court relies heavily on psychological experts for its understanding of the human personality. x x x” (Ibid.)

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other 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


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