With the Philippines remaining as the only (as of this writing) country in the world that does not allow divorce, married couples who seek legal remedies to end their union resort to having it annulled or declared null.
Under Philippine laws, specifically the Family Code, the two are different from each other. When a marriage is considered “annulled,” it means it was considered valid but the court finds sufficient grounds to consider it null henceforth. On the other hand, a “declaration of nullity” means the marriage is considered invalid from the start, as if there was no valid marriage that ever happened.
The party seeking annulment must make sure that he/she has the grounds to file for such. Acceptable grounds, which should have been present at the time of marriage, are: lack of parental consent, if one of the party was below 21 and had no consent from the parent/guardian to marry; insanity; commission of fraud, such as non-disclosure of crime, drug addiction, sexual preference, alcoholism, pregnancy by another man, or affliction with a sexually transmitted disease (STD); and use of force to obtain consent. All these are moot, however, if the parties cohabited freely with each other as husband and wife after the contested period.
A marriage can also be annulled if, within five years of getting married, one of the parties was proven impotent or physically incapable to consummate the marriage, or afflicted the other of serious or incurable case of STD.
The petition for annulment may be filed by the aggrieved party (petitioner) in the family court where either spouse has resided for the last six months or where he/she may be currently found. Those working abroad or overseas Filipino workers may still file for annulment by having his/her petition, prepared preferably by a Philippine-based lawyer, notarized then authenticated at the nearest Philippine embassy. The original copy should then be sent to the Philippines for filing in the appropriate court.
The court will then send the other party (the respondent) a summons. If the respondent is abroad, the petition or the summons will have to be published weekly in a generally-circulated newspaper, for three consecutive weeks. In this way, the court will later be able to proceed even in the absence of the respondent.
Once the respondent receives the summons, he/she has 15 days to answer, or 30 days from last publication date if summoned by publication. Afterwards, the court may order a public prosecutor to investigate both parties.
The couple will have to appear before the court in a pre-trial conference so as to determine the validity of the grounds for annulment. Once the grounds have been proven and remain unopposed, trial proceeds. The parties have 15 days to appeal any decision meted by the court, after which the parties will agree on the liquidation and distribution of properties, as well as on the support and custody of any children they may have. After all have been finalized, the court will issue a decree of annulment which must in turn be registered in the civil registries where the marriage was first registered and where the court is located, and in the National Statistics Office.
Needless to say, in a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines which considers marriage as a holy sacrament and an inviolable social institution, annulment can cost a lot, and is a long and tedious process. It is therefore imperative for both spouses to only resort to dissolving their marriage after they have weighed all options, explored all valid alternatives, and agreed that the marriage can indeed no longer be salvaged.