My wife and I separated because of religious differences. Nine years after our separation, she married a foreigner in Cavite. We were both Catholics, but she converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, her second marriage was solemnized in their church. I just want to know whether a marriage solemnized in the church of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is valid and legal. Is my wife’s second marriage also valid? Can she be held liable for bigamy?
Marriage is a special kind of contract that permanently unites a man and a woman. In order for a marriage to be considered valid and binding, the contracting parties must be a male and a female of the age of 18 or upwards and not under any legal impediment. They must also have the legal capacity to enter into such a contract and should freely give their consent to the marriage in the presence of an officer who is authorized to solemnize marriages (Article 2 in relation to Article 5, Family Code of the Philippines).
We want to emphasize that marriages may not only be solemnized by Catholic priests. It may be solemnized by a rabbi, an imam, or aminister of any church or religious sect as long as he or she is duly authorized by his or her church or religious sect, registered with the civil registrar general, and is acting within the limits of the written authority granted by his or her church or religious sect and provided that at least one of the contracting parties belongs to the solemnizing officer’s church or religious sect (Article 7, Family Code of the Philippines).
While our laws do not provide for a specific form or religious rite for the solemnization of the contract of marriage, it is, however, necessary that the contracting parties secure a valid marriage license prior to the solemnization of their marriage, except in the cases allowed by law. They must likewise personally appear before the solemnizing officer and declare in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age that they take each other as husband and wife. This declaration shall be contained in the marriage certificate that shall be signed by the contracting parties and their witnesses and attested by the solemnizing officer (Article 6 in relation to Article 3, Family Code of the Philippines).
Accordingly, a marriage solemnized in the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses may be considered valid and legally binding as long as it has complied with the above-mentioned requisites. However, a person who is already married may not legally contract a subsequent marriage without securing a declaration of nullity of marriage or annulment of his or her first marriage from the proper court, otherwise he or she may be held liable for the crime of bigamy. As provided for under Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC): “The penalty of prision mayor shall be imposed upon any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings.”
Hence, your wife may be held criminally liable for bigamy if you can concretely establish that she contracted her second marriage without having your first marriage annulled or declared as null and void.
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 email@example.com