G.R. No. 241036, January 26, 2021
Lucila married Rene and begot 5 children, the Aguas heirs in this case. Rene filed a petition to declare his marriage with Lucila null and void on the ground of the latter’s psychological incapacity and was ruled in affirmative by the court in December 2005. Rene contracted a second marriage with Cherry in 2006 and died intestate in 2015.
Cherry filed a petition for the settlement of the intestate estate of Rene raffled to RTC-Angeles City, Branch 56 (Branch 56).
Lucila and the Aguas heirs (petitioners) filed a petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage of Rene and Cherry on the ground that the said subsequent marriage was entered into without complying the provisions in Articles 52 and 53 of the Family Code on the partition and distribution of the properties of the previous marriage and the delivery of the presumptive legitimes. It was raffled to RTC-Angeles City, Branch 59 (Branch 59), the designated Family Court.
Branch 59 issued an Order to re-raffle the case among courts of general jurisdiction since the petition involves a collateral attack on the validity of marriage of Rene and Cherry which does not fall within the jurisdiction of a Family Court. The petition was re-raffled to RTC-Angeles City, Branch 60 (Branch 60).
Branch 60 ruled that the petitioners have no cause of action to file the petition for declaration of nullity of marriage since it is the sole right of the husband or the wife to file the said petition involving marriages under the Family Code of the Philippines. Nonetheless, the compulsory or intestate heirs can still question the validity of the marriage of the spouses, not in a proceeding for declaration of nullity, but upon the death of a spouse in a proceeding for the settlement of the estate of the deceased spouse filed in the regular courts.
(a) Which court has jurisdiction over the petition for declaration of nullity of marriage?
(b) Whether or not the petitioners are the real parties in interest to file the subject RTC petition for nullity of marriage.
(a) The petition for declaration of nullity of marriage is under the jurisdiction of the RTC branch designated as Family Court pursuant to R.A. No. 8369 when there is one in the area. Therefore, Branch 59 has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the RTC petition.
R.A. No. 8369, otherwise known as the Family Courts Act of 1997, particularly Sections 3 and 5 thereof, created Family Courts and grant unto them exclusive jurisdiction over complaints for declaration of nullity of marriage.
Branch 59 ruled in its Transmittal Order that it has no jurisdiction over the RTC petition because the same was not filed by an aggrieved or injured spouse, who are the only parties who can file a petition for declaration of nullity of void marriages pursuant to A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC. It added that the petition was filed by the heirs of Rene which constitutes a collateral attack on the validity of his marriage with Cherry. If, on its face, the RTC petition was not filed by real party-in-interest, as Branch 59 wanted to point out, the proper ground for dismissal should be failure to state a cause of action and not lack of jurisdiction. One having no material interest to protect cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the court as plaintiff in an action.
(b) Aguas heirs can collaterally attack the validity of Rene and Cherry’s marriage in the proceedings for the settlement of the estate of Rene. Lucila can file a separate civil action for partition against the administrator of Rene’s estate.
A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC declares that a petition for declaration of absolute nullity of void marriage may be filed solely by the husband or the wife, it does not mean that the compulsory or intestate heirs are already without any recourse under the law. They can still protect their successional right, for, as stated in the Rationale of the Rules on Annulment of Voidable Marriages and Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages, Legal Separation and Provisional Orders (Rationale of the Rules), compulsory or intestate heirs can still question the validity of the marriage of the spouses, not in a proceeding for declaration of nullity, but upon the death of a spouse in a proceeding for the settlement of the estate of the deceased spouse filed in the regular courts.
Lucila, on the other hand, is not the wife in the marriage that she and her children sought to annul. Be it noted that she is not a spouse of Rene, their marriage having been declared null and void from the very beginning on the ground of psychological incapacity in the 2005 Nullity Decision. Accordingly, Lucila, could not be the aggrieved or injured spouse who has the legal standing to file the complaint for nullity of marriage of the spouses Rene and Cherry.
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