MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) has made a fresh interpretation of the law on the declaration of nullity of marriage.

During its deliberations on the annulment case Tan-Andal v. Andal, the SC en banc voting unanimously on Tuesday pronounced that "psychological incapacity" is not a medical but a legal concept.

Article 36 of the Family Code provides that a marriage contracted by any party who was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage is void, even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after the marriage is solemnized.

"It refers to a personal condition that prevents a spouse to comply with fundamental marital obligations only in relation to a specific partner that may exist at the time of the marriage [or] may have revealed through behavior subsequent to the ceremonies. It need not be a mental or personality disorder," the tribunal said.

The court added that "it need not be a permanent and incurable condition" and "the testimony of psychologist or psychiatrist is not mandatory in all cases. The totality of the evidence must show clear and convincing evidence to cause the declaration of nullity of marriage."

As late as 2000, in the case of Marcos v. Marcos, the Supreme Court had already said personal medical or psychological examination is not a requirement for a declaration of psychological incapacity.

The requirement was further relaxed in 2015.

Meanwhile, advocates of women's rights said the Supreme Court decision "is a welcome development for litigants of annulment cases involving ‘psychological incapacity’ since the high costs and lengthy Court process are among the major complaints of parties going through annulment.

Women's reproductive health rights and legalized divorce advocate Elizabeth Angsioco said removing the requirement for psychiatrists and psychologists will hopefully result in shortening the process and minimizing costs of court proceedings in annulment cases.

"This will particularly help women who have been trapped in abusive relationships caused by the psychological incapacity of their husbands. It may now be easier for them to seek the annulment of their marriages, and thus, be free from abuse and violence," she said.

Despite the SC decision, Angsioco still stressed the need for a divorce law in the Philippines.

"A divorce law will deal with valid marriages that have broken down while annulment is for marriages that are void from the start. Hopefully, this decision by the highest Court may help push Congress into immediately passing the divorce bill into law," she said. (PNA)