Here’s something that should keep everyone busy over the long weekend. One of the recurring issues in this forum, perhaps primarily because of the apparent increase in interest of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in annulment, is the proper venue of petitions for annulment or declaration of nullity. To address this issue, let’s consider the following provisions of the Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages —
Sec. 4. Venue.– The petition shall be filed in the Family Court of the province or city where the petitioner or the respondent has been residing for at least six months prior to the date of filing, or in the case of a non-resident respondent, where he may be found in the Philippines, at the election of the petitioner.
Sec. 5. Contents and form of petition. – xxx
If the petitioner is in a foreign country, the verification and certification against forum shopping shall be authenticated by the duly authorized officer of the Philippine embassy or legation, consul general, consul or vice-consul or consular agent in said country.
Residence connotes “actual residence” as distinguished from “legal residence or domicile.” It is the personal, actual or physical habitation of a person, actual residence or place of abode that signifies physical presence in a place and actual stay thereat. In other words, the possible venues for filing the petition for annulment or declaration of nullity are the following, at the option of the petitioner:
1. The province or city where the PETITIONER has been residing for at least six months prior to the date of filing.
2. The province or city where the RESPONDENT has been residing for at least six months prior to the date of filing.
3. In the case of a non-resident RESPONDENT, the province or city where he may be found in the Philippines.
Now, here’s the fun part — since this is a forum and discussions are most welcome in order to dissect points of law, let’s tackle the venue in the case of a Filipino staying abroad, even if on a non-permanent basis. Would that Filipino be considered as a non-resident, and, if so, is he/she left with the sole option of filing the petition for annulment or declaration of nullity at the province or city where the respondent has been residing for at least six months prior to the date of filing? Let’s complicate matters — what if the spouses have long been separated and each has no idea as to the actual residence of his/her spouse? Where, then, should the OFW file the petition? Let’s hear what students of law (and I use this term loosely to refer to law students and lawyers) have to say.