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The dissolution of marriages is still one of the top questions being asked by my listeners on my radio program Punto Legal on DZWT 540, 10:45-12:00 noon every Saturday. I am very sure that practising lawyers are frequently asked about the same topic by their prospective clients. Indeed there are really unfortunate situations where the relationship of married couples have now turned from romantic to hostile. The latest ruling of the Supreme Court saying that psychological incapacity is not a medical concept but a legal one, might be a light at the end of the tunnel for those whose marriage is almost a “hell on earth”. But let us clarify the concepts of “declaration of nullity” versus “annulment”:
Declaration of Nullity of Marriage
In cases of Declaration of Nullity the marriage is really non-existent even if there is a semblance of marital union. The marriage may have the appearance of validity (like a signed and registered marriage contract) but in fact has no legal existence: “void ab initio” or not valid from the beginning. If so, why is there a need for parties to go to court and undergo the expensive process of litigation to have the marriage declared null and void? The answer is simple: you cannot put the law into your own hands. Being the interpreter of laws, the courts have to determine if indeed the union entered into by the parties has not complied with the applicable provisions of law. One important thing about declaration of nullity cases is the fact that the action does not prescribe. A party cannot be prevented by the lapse of a certain period from instituting the action of declaration of nullity in court.
Annulment of Marriage
Marriages that can be annulled are considered “valid until annulled”. The marriage union is a valid one except that if the concerned party annuls it through court action the marriage tie is severed. It is almost like divorce but the ground is not the often abused: “irreconcilable differences”. The grounds for annulment are mainly defects on some elements of the marriage. For instance, a “shot gun” marriage (where either or both parties were forced to enter into marital union) may be annulled by the aggrieved party within five years from the time the force ceases otherwise if the aggrieved cohabits with the other spouse beyond the said period he or she can no longer bring an action of annulment. Here the element of consent is defective by reason of the force.
So Why Are They Not the Same?
Although the end result will be the same -either party can marry again, the grounds and effects of the actions are not. It will be too lengthy if the grounds will be enumerated here. While an action for declaration of nullity does not prescribe since the marriage cannot be ratified, an action for the annulment of marriage must be instituted within a limited time the lapse of which bars the action forever. Children born within a void ab initio marriage are considered illegitimate but children born within “valid until annulled” marriages are considered legitimate. These are just some of the significant differences between the two.
In case the reader wants to institute a petition for the dissolution of marriage, googling might initially help but an appointment with a lawyer will still be the best. Unless you are a lawyer, legal actions cannot be a “do-it-yourself” matter. Let the professionals handle it.