Divorce and Recognition of Foreign Judgments

The general rule of divorce in the Philippines is that the law does not provide for absolute divorce. Hence, Philippine courts cannot grant a divorce decree. This is the ruling in Garcia vs. Recio (G.R. No. 138322, October 2, 2001). A marriage between two Filipinos cannot be dissolved even by a divorce obtained abroad due to the following provisions of the New Civil Code:

Art. 15. Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.
Art. 17. The forms and solemnities of contracts, wills, and other public instruments shall be governed by the laws of the country in which they are executed.
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Prohibitive laws concerning persons, their acts or property, and those which have for their object public order, public policy and good customs shall not be rendered ineffective by laws or judgments promulgated, or by determinations or conventions agreed upon in a foreign country.

In mixed marriages involving a Filipino and a foreigner, the Family Code allows the former to contract a subsequent marriage in case the divorce is validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry. Article 26 of the Family states:

Where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.

The case of Van Dorn v. Romillo Jr. (139 SCRA 139, October 8, 1985) and Pilapil v. Ibay-Somera (174 SCRA 653, June 30, 1989) have authoritatively applied this provision in mixed marriages between a Filipino and a foreigner. A divorce obtained abroad by a couple, who are both aliens, may be recognized in the Philippines, provided it is consistent with their respective national laws.

However, before a foreign divorce decree can be recognized by our courts, the party pleading it must prove the divorce as a fact and demonstrate its conformity to the foreign law allowing it. A divorce obtained abroad is proven by the divorce decree itself. The best evidence of a judgment is the judgment itself. Rule 130 of the Rules on Evidence provides that when the subject of inquiry is the contents of a document, no evidence shall be admissible other than the original document itself. The decree purports to be a written act or record of an act of an official body or tribunal of a foreign country. 

Under Sections 24 and 25 of Rule 132 of the Rules on Evidence, a writing or document may be proven as a public or official record of a foreign country by either (1) an official publication or (2) a copy thereof attested by the officer having legal custody of the document. If the record is not kept in the Philippines, such copy must be (a) accompanied by a certificate issued by the proper diplomatic or consular officer in the Philippine foreign service stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept and (b) authenticated by the seal of his office.

Philippine courts cannot take judicial notice of foreign laws. Like any other facts, they must be alleged and proved. Foreign marital laws are not among those matters that judges are supposed to know by reason of their judicial function. The power of judicial notice must be exercised with caution, and every reasonable doubt upon the subject should be resolved in the negative.

Respicio Law & Co. can help parties in the recognition of foreign divorce decrees.