Divorce by agreement recognizable

The trial court granted the petition for recognition of the foreign divorce decree obtained by Toru Saito and his Filipino wife Helen Bayog-Saito in Japan

Can a divorce by agreement obtained abroad be recognized by our courts and thus capacitate the Filipino spouse to remarry?

That is the issue posed in the Republic of the Philippines vs. Helen Bayog-Saito, The Registry of Deeds of Pasay City, and the National Statistics Office (G.R. 247297 promulgated on 17 August 2022).

The trial court granted the petition for recognition of the foreign divorce decree obtained by Toru Saito and his Filipino wife Helen Bayog -Saito in Japan.

This the court did after Helen presented all the documentary requirements and followed proper procedure in proving them. But the Office of the Solicitor-General was in total disagreement. It was of the argument that the divorce obtained was absolute.

That means Helen herself jointly applied with her husband to petition for their divorce. And for the OSG, that goes against the grain of Paragraph 2, Article 26 of the Family Code.

The court did not heed the argument of the OSG. As expected, it brought the matter for resolution by the Court of Appeals.

The appellate court, however, stayed on the side opposite the OSG. It affirmed the decision of the trial court. Not satisfied with the appellate court’s decision, the OSG posed the issue before the Highest Tribunal. What then has the Supreme Court to say about this issue?

“While Philippine law does not allow absolute divorce, a divorce obtained abroad by a foreign spouse may nevertheless be recognized in our jurisdiction, provided such decree is valid according to the national law of the foreigner.”

The pertinent provision, Article 26 of the Family Code states “Where a marriage between a Filipino Citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall likewise have the capacity to remarry under Philippine law… The provision gives the Philippine courts the authority ‘to extend the effect of a foreign divorce decree to a Filipino spouse without undergoing trial to determine the validity of the dissolution of the marriage.”

It bestows upon the Filipino spouse “a substantive right to have his or her marriage considered dissolved, granting him or her the capacity to remarry.”

In the present case, petitioner opposes the recognition of the foreign divorce decree on the ground that it was purportedly obtained by Helen jointly with her Japanese spouse, Toru.

Petitioner avers that respondent cannot file and obtain a divorce decree jointly with her foreign spouse because she is incapacitated to do such act under our national law… Petitioner’s contention is bereft of merit. In the landmark case of the Republic of the Philippines v. Manalo, the Court en banc clarified the scope of paragraph 2, Article 26 of the Family Code to even cover instances where the divorce decree is obtained solely by the Filipino spouse.

In subsequent cases, the Court noted that the prohibition against Filipinos participating in divorce proceedings will not protect our own nationals.

Thus, the Court held that it does not matter if it is the Filipino spouse who acquired the decree of divorce abroad… Significantly, in the recent case of Galapon v. Republic, the Court clarified that pursuant to the majority ruling in Manalo, paragraph 2, Article 26 of the Family Code applies to mixed marriages where the divorce decree is: (1) obtained by the foreign spouse; (2) obtained jointly by the Filipino and foreign spouse; and (3) obtained solely by the Filipino spouse.

Here the divorce was initiated by Toru who asked Helen to sign the divorce notification papers; she agreed by affixing her signature to the documents. In effect, the parties are considered to have obtained divorce by agreement when they mutually agreed to the divorce, which is allowed in Japan.

Pursuant to the Court’s ruling in Manalo and Galapon, even though respondent jointly filed the divorce notification papers with her husband, the divorce decree obtained by the parties may be recognized in our jurisdiction. Hence, the CA was correct in ruling that the legal effects of foreign divorce decree of the parties may be recognized in our jurisdiction.”

The facts and citations are from the Bayog-Saito case cited above.

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