Partition in annulment: When forum-shopping

Judging by the pronouncement above of the Supreme Court, my take is that it is still splitting the cause of action, which results in forum shopping

September 11, 2022

One thing elating about the granting of a petition for declaration of nullity of marriage, loosely, annulment, is that parties start their lives again with a clean slate. They revert to the status of being single, thus enabling them to get married to someone else sans criminal liability. Not only that, their properties are divided and each will exclusively own whatever properties they acquire after the marital nullity declaration. The minor children’s custody is determined by the court. Same with support.

The court is like a one-stop shop that settles not only the main issue of nullity, but the incidentals as well, thereby averting any future conflict. The result — parties go their separate ways in a very orderly fashion.

There are times, however, when the property partition becomes more the issue than the marriage nullity itself. I have witnessed cases where the parties fight tooth and nail to get the lion’s share of the properties. This unnecessarily protracts the proceedings. There are instances when the issue on the properties is the one appealed, as the parties are already content with the marital nullity judgment.

Assuming a party anticipates that the property issue will undoubtedly drag the nullity petition, can he or she file a separate case to partition the properties? Both proceed independently of each other; neither affecting the other. Makes sense, right? The nullity of marriage may be determined more expeditiously by one court. The properties issue, however, will go on for a long time in the other court, neither party giving in to the other.

To answer that, let us visit Arturo C. Tanyag vs Dolores G. Tanyag (GR 231319, promulgated on 10 November 2021). Arturo and Dolores married in 1979. In 2004, Dolores filed with the court in Quezon City a petition for the declaration of their marriage on account of her husband’s psychological incapacity. During the pendency of this case, she also filed a petition for declaration of paraphernal property with the trial court in La Trinidad, Benguet. She wanted to have two parcels of land declared as her exclusive paraphernal property.

Logically, Arturo objected to the second case. He argued that there is already a prior nullity case in Quezon City and therefore the second case is barred by litis pendentia (another action pending involving the same parties, issues and relief). The La Trinidad court rejected his argument.

Elevating the matter to the Court of Appeals proved futile as it sided with the trial court. Having one last recourse, Arturo brought the issue before the Supreme Court.

Thus said the Court, “upon the parties’ filing of a petition for the declaration of nullity of marriage, trial courts also acquire jurisdiction over matters incidental and consequential to the marriage. Among these is the settlement of the parties’ common properties. By filing another petition for the determination of which properties form part of the co-ownership, a party commits forum-shopping by splitting causes of action… The Property Case should be dismissed for litis pendentia if the liquidation, partition and distribution have already been finally resolved in the Nullity case.”

Now what if the facts were a bit different? What if one of the parties subsequent to the nullity decision files an independent action for partition? This is because no issue on properties was made when the nullity case was tried. Well, that is worth bringing up to the Supreme Court as well. But judging by the pronouncement above of the Supreme Court, my take is that it is still splitting the cause of action, which results in forum shopping. Note the declaration of the court — “by filing another petition.” It did not qualify by stating “simultaneously filing.” It does not matter at which point in time. Remains to be seen.

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