A number of queries have reached us whether a married person can re-file a petition for annulment or declaration of nullity when the previous petition was previously dismissed. The first petition is usually based on psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code and the second petition is almost always based on a different ground.
This is precisely the issue resolved in the case of Mallion vs. Alcantara, 31 October 2006, G.R. No. 141528: Does a previous final judgment denying a petition for declaration of nullity on the ground of psychological incapacity bar a subsequent petition for declaration of nullity on the ground of lack of marriage license?
In the Mallion case, the husband filed a petition for declaration of nullity of marriage based on Article 36 but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. The husband subsequently filed another case, this time based on the absence of marriage license, which is another ground for declaration of nullity.
The wife, unfortunately for the husband, actively opposed the petition, arguing that it should be dismissed on the ground of res judicata and forum shopping. The husband-petitioner countered that the two cases involve different facts and require different evidence.
For the layman, here’s how we could simplify the explanation. In the first petition, the husband made a categorical admission that the marriage was celebrated in accordance with law. This obviously means that the requirements for the solemnization of marriage — including the requisite marriage license — were complied with. The petitioner cannot be allowed to allege in the second petition that the marriage is defective because of the absence of a valid marriage license.
We could dig in and dwell on the reasons given by the Supreme Court. The decision in the Mallion case contains a straightforward discussion on res judicata, on the its dual aspects of “bar by prior judgment” (different cases, same cause of action) or “conclusiveness of judgment” (different cases, different causes of action, same issue), as well as what constitutes a cause of action.
The cause of action, Justice Azcuna wrote, is the nullity of the marriage — whether the ground used is psychological incapacity, lack of essential requisites like a marriage licenses or some other ground. The husband-petitioner was “simply invoking different grounds for the same cause of action.”
Res judicata is the effect or sanction for violating another provision of the Rules of Court, the prohibition on splitting a single cause of action. No two suits can be filed if based on the same cause of action. The simultaneous filing (litis pendentia) or subsequent filing (res judicata) of a similar case is a ground for dismissal.
If we accept the pronouncement in Mallion that the nullity of the marriage is the cause of action and if we follow the logic of the decision, the dismissal on the merits of a petition for annulment/declaration of nullity of marriage bars any and all subsequent petitions to nullify the same marriage, even if based on a different ground. It is equally true, given the reasoning in the Mallion case, that a second petition is no longer allowed even if filed by the other spouse. That is certainly troubling to many.
The moral of the story? Include all grounds in the petition for annulment or declaration of nullity. Otherwise, look for the argument why the decision in the Mallion does not apply to your case, or why certain pronouncements in the decision are mere obiter dictum, or why the doctrine must be applied pro hac vice. Discuss this with your lawyer.