“Relaxed” Rules on Psychological Incapacity to Annul Marriages

A recent newspaper article got my attention. “SC relaxes rules on psychological incapacity as ground to annul marriages,” says the news title in a popular newspaper. I traced the case, Valerio E. Kalaw vs. Ma. Elena Fernandez (G.R. No. 166357, 14 January 2015), and proceeded to check if the Supreme Court really “relaxed” the rules in that case.

Practitioners refer to the guidelines for the interpretation and application of Article 36 as the Molina Doctrine, considering that the set of guidelines were first compiled in the 1997 case of Republic vs. Court of Appeals and Roridel Olaviano Molina (G.R. No. 108763). In Kalaw, the Supreme Court categorically reiterated its previous ruling that “we are not suggesting the abandonment of Molina in this case.” The set of guidelines in Molina, therefore, stays.

The pronouncement in Kalaw that is closest to “relaxation” of the guidelines is its reiteration that the “foregoing guidelines have turned out to be rigid, such that their application to every instance practically condemned the petitions for declaration of nullity to the fate of certain rejection.” There is no doubt that the Molina Doctrine is strict, but there is also no doubt that countless petitions have been granted pursuant to its guidelines.

The Court did not “relax” the rules when it reconsidered the Kalaw ruling. On the contrary, the ruling falls under the ambit of the Molina guidelines. The first time the Supreme Court decided Kalaw in 2011, with Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo as the ponente, the Court dismissed the petition for insufficiency of evidence. There was no sufficient evidence to prove the alleged acts of the respondent wife — “constant mahjong sessions, visits to the beauty parlor, going out with friends, adultery, and neglect of their children.” While it was shown that the respondent-wife played mahjong (bringing the kids with her), the petitioner-husband failed to show the FREQUENCY of the mahjong sessions. There is no proof that the “mahjong sessions were so frequent that respondent neglected her family.” In other words, the “allegations, which served as the bases or underlying premises of the conclusions of his experts, were not actually proven.”

In 2015, with Justice Lucas Bersamin as ponente, the Supreme Court reconsidered its earlier decision. The Supreme Court, “lest it be misunderstood,” explicitly stated that it’s not abandoning Molina. The Court, bound by the same set of proven facts, clarified that the failure to show the frequency of mahjong sessions does not preclude a finding of psychological incapacity. It’s not the FREQUENCY of the mahjong sessions; it’s the fact that the respondent-wife should “have known that bringing her children along her children of very tender ages to her mahjong sessions would expose them to a culture of gambling and other vices that would erode their moral fiber.” This, based on the totality of facts in the case, supports the finding of psychological incapacity. This ruling is very much consistent with the Molina Doctrine. There is no “relaxation” of the rules in this respect.

The label that the Court “relaxed” the rules is most likely derived from the Court’s statement that the rules set forth in Molina are rigid. This is bolstered by the apparent expression of regret, also reiterated in Kalaw, that “in hindsight, it may have been inappropriate for the Court to impose a rigid set of rules, as the one in Molina, in resolving all cases of psychological incapacity.” In my opinion, and as discussed below, the term “rigid” should not be understood along the lines of “relaxed” as an antonym.

The Supreme Court took pains to stress in Kalaw, again pointing to an earlier case, that it is “not suggesting the abandonment of Molina in this case.” It is not accurate to say that the Supreme Court “relaxed” the psychological incapacity guidelines in Kalaw. Matters that can be interpreted in Kalaw as a “relaxation” of the rules have been taken up in previous cases. Kalaw simply reiterates those principles.

What the Supreme Court again pointed out in Kalaw is the need to emphasize “other perspectives” that should guide courts in dealing with petitions for declaration of nullity under Article 36 of the Family Code.

What are the “other perspectives”? The Supreme Court noted that Article 36 cases should not be decided based on “a priori assumptions, predilections or generalizations” and emphasized that “courts should interpret the provision on a case-to-case basis; guided by experience, the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of church tribunals.”

This, in my opinion, means that “other perspectives” can run parallel to the Molina guidelines. In other words, the Molina Doctrine is not the be-all and end-all of Article 36 interpretation. The intention not to define Article 36 simply means that the provision should not be static; it is intended to be a “living” provision, with courts “guided by experience, the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of church tribunals.”

Cases that don’t fall squarely under the Molina guidelines should not be dismissed outright. A “rigid” interpretation of Molina means that petitions must be strictly construed in favor of the validity of marriage and any deviation from the guidelines, no matter how reasonable, must lead to the dismissal of the petition. But it should be remembered that a void marriage enjoys no protection and not entitled to any presumption of regularity, which means that even if a particular case does not fall squarely under the Molina principles, the court must still examine the “totality of evidence” and must apply “other perspectives.” This way, “diagnosed sociopaths, schizophrenics, nymphomaniacs, narcissists and the like” will not be allowed to “continuously debase and pervert the sanctity of marriage.”

[Feel free to express your opinion on the case through the comment section below. A healthy and constructive discussion is most welcome. For a more extensive discussion on the topic, refer to the Philippine e-Legal Forum.]


  1. Good day po. May itatanong lang sana ako. Paano ba makapagfile ng annulment ang mga foreigners dito sa ating bansa. Dito lang sila kinasal sa atin.

  2. We were married in the Philippines (1993). We are separated since 1998 because of another woman whom he has a daughter. We went here in Canada in the year 2001 as family immigrant but never live together. He left our two children to me and did not give any child support. 2003, I divorced him. We are both Canadian citizen now and both have our own partner. I still would like to file for annulment of our marriage in the Philippines. What is the possibility for us to be able to nullify our marriage? Is any of the ground for annulment applicable to us?

    1. Lerrina, would be helpful to search the related articles in this blog. As discussed in a previous post, “Article 26 was later interpreted by the Supreme Court to include cases involving parties who, at the time of the celebration of the marriage were Filipino citizens, but later on, one of them becomes naturalized as a foreign citizen and obtains a divorce decree.” Refer to this: http://attyatwork.com/divorce-in-the-philippines-and-judicial-recognition-of-foreign-divorce-decree/

  3. kakahiwalay lang namin ng asawa ko last month…parang ako po kasi ang tumayong padre de pamilya kahit nagtatrabaho naman sya…ako din po ang nagpasok sa kanya sa trabaho..at ako lang ang lahat nung wala pa syang work…nagkabaon baon po kasi kami sa utang..kaya napilitan akong kumapit sa patalim pero isang beses lang para mabayaran ang mga utang namin nung nagkasakit sya…nabuntis po ako..nung una ay pinagdudahan nya dahil pagtapos ng 7 buwan nyang di ako sinisipingan ay isang beses lang ulit may nangyari samin…ang alam ko din naman ay baka sa kanya tong bata…pero bago pa ang issue samin ay parang may kinalolokohan na ang asawa ko…at mas lalong nagrebelde nung pinagdudahan ang pagbubuntis ko…nung pinagtapat ko ang tungkol sa nagawa ko na isang beses lang at bakit ko ginawa…iniwan nya kami…grounds na po ba yun para hiwalayan nya ko??kasi kung papirmahin daw nya ako ng annulment ay pumirma ako…may laban po ba ako lung sakaling magladlad na din sila ng babae nya???sana po ay matulungan nyo ako…at sa rights ng mga bata…minsang napagtalunan po kasi namin na sabi nya na talo daw ako kung sakaling umabot sa korte ang lahat…sa kanya mapupunta ang mga bata

  4. Where do to get Psychological Incapacity Report? Most psychiatrist I talked to says they dont do it because they dont want to appear in court. Pls help. Thanks.

  5. ask ko lang po kung sapat na ba grounds para magfile ng anuulment. kinasal po kami at the age of me 26 and he is 19. as i am mature i handle the family. i supported him in his ways to find a living but he just didnt realize it what im investing to him. i dont have much either until he lost all that even the house cannot be called a house but a shack. we r just lucky because we didnt rent because i own the small lot. i even ask for financial help from my mother to buy tricyle but he abuse it as well.he was lying as he always do. he got into drugs. lies about his income. while i do everything at home whith 3 young kids ages 4yrs, 3yrs and less than a year. we could hardly survived our daily needs. he comes home late always. until i finally applied to work as a domestic helper so i could help but he neglect even more his responsibilities until even his parents who look after my kids leave him because they cannot bear the way he is. i talk to him to look after the kids since he has no income na maipakita sa pamamasada. he could barely buy food. he agreed but in a month we loss water connections, everytime punta ang magkakabit ng kuryente wala sya sa bahay. so wala kuryente at tubig still cge pa rin ang alis nya kasama ang maliit kapag sa school ang dalawa. magbyahe pg maybakante na tricycle since we lost ours by his neglect, leaving the youngest anywhere. months past he would leave the 3 kids at home ages 5, 4 and 2 yrs old at that time telling them he will get food only from my sister which i pay monthly but he will come back only after a few hours. f he find my son outside the house when he come back he will bit him, my eldest. well its a kid how can he impose a responsibility to the kid and hurt the kid when he fails? sometimes he will come home late the kids at home without food and no light. sometimes the youngest falls asleep while they are sitting behind the door afraid waiting for their father to arrive. so i ask my mother to get them to be with her and their father followed there but on and off. not knowing where he goes until less than a month he actually leave the kids fully to my mother. when my mother got my kids my eldest was kind of having psychological problem from his fathers treatment to him when got wrong or he didnot follow what is instructed to him before their father leave to get that so called food. by the time i ask my mother to get my kids my husband is already hook on drugs. hope atty u can reply. he leave the kids fully to my mother 4 months ago. i tried to work the maariage but 8n the long run im got drained. now i want to fucos on my kids

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