Divorce 101 for Filipinos

Here’s a situation: A and B, both Filipinos, went to the United States to get married. After several years, marital troubles started to occur between the couple and after efforts at reconciliation failed, the two started to part ways. They figured that since they were married in abroad, they decided to get a divorce in the US.

Upon return to the Philippines, after obtaining a decree of divorce, A and B mutually divided their properties between them and went their separate ways. Now, here’s where it gets tricky: Apparently, A incurred debts after their ‘divorce’. And now creditors are after not just A’s properties but also that B’s, which left the latter distraught. Is this even possible? Yes.

First things first: Divorce is NOT applicable to Filipinos. Even if the couple successfully obtains a decree of divorce, the same is VOID in the Philippines. In effect, in the eyes of the law, the couple is still legally bound as husband and wife.

Art. 15, otherwise known as the Nationality Principle, of the New Civil Code provides:

Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.

Given this, the creditors may go after the property of B as the same forms part of the community property of with A. After all, they are still a married couple.

However, Divorce obtained outside the country, may, in certain instances, be recognized in the Philippines. How?

Article 26 of the Family Code, reads:

All marriages solemnized outside the Philippines in accordance with the laws in force in the country where they were solemnized, and valid there as such, shall also be valid in this country, except those prohibited under Articles 35(1), (4), (5) and (6), 36, 37 and 38.

Where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.

What makes this provision applicable to Filipinos are the presence of the following elements:

  1. That the there is a valid marriage between a Filipino and a foreigner.
  2. That the alien spouse obtains the divorce abroad and such decree capacitates him/her to remarry.

What if the Filipino later on became a naturalized foreign citizen, is this now applicable to him? It depends. In Republic vs. Orbecido III, the Supreme Court ruled that: “The reckoning point is not the citizenship of the parties at the time of marriage, but their citizenship at the time a valid divorce is obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating the latter to remarry.”

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