I have decided to file a case to have my marriage annulled. However, the length of time it might take to be granted scares me. I've read of a local celebrity whose petition for annulment has dragged on for almost fifteen years, yet I'm also hopeful because I’ve also heard of cases which only took a year to finish. Why are some marriages granted an annulment quickly, and why do some take several years?
A: Dear Curious, I understand your trepidation -- annulment cases involve basically the same issues, so how come it takes so long for some, and not for others? Well, there are many factors which affect the length of the proceedings in a petition for annulment. I will discuss the most common ones here:
1. Trial schedule of the court Each court schedules its trial dates differently. There are those that schedule hearings and trial dates every month until the case is finished, and there are those that hold hearings on a particular case only once every two or three months. Because most courts handle so many cases all at the same time, sometimes they cannot schedule the hearings often. Since the hearing dates are so far apart in these cases, it takes a while to finish the presentation of evidence. There are also instances where the scheduled hearings are reset to a later date because of the absence of the prosecutor, the judge, or the lawyers. On the worst-case scenario, it can take two to three years before a case is even submitted for decision.
2. Availability of the parties and their witnesses Since annulment proceedings are raised between married couples, there are two parties in a petition for annulment: the Petitioner (the one who filed the case and is seeking the annulment of the marriage) and the Respondent (the remaining spouse).
Once trial ensues, each party is given time to testify and to present their own witnesses. If the petitioner or respondent resides abroad, it may be difficult to schedule a trial date to coincide with the period that he/she is in the Philippines. Also, the other witnesses may not be available on their hearing date due to sickness, work, or other reasons, which can set back the trial another month or so. In fact, I’ve seen a few cases getting delayed for years because of the unavailability of the psychologist who had to be presented as an expert witness. The psychologist in those cases was so in demand that she sometimes had to testify in 3 to 4 cases in one court in just one morning!
3. Issues involved in the case Most of the time, a petition for annulment involves only one issue: whether or not the marriage is void due to either party’s psychological incapacity to comply with the essential requisites of marriage. If this is the only issue, the case does not take as long as to resolve. But when issues of custody over children, support, or distribution of property is involved, the problems are suddenly raised to a whole new level.
When spouses fight over children, the trial takes longer than usual because both parties will try to prove that the other spouse is an unfit parent in order to gain custody. This breeds even more hostility between the parties, which makes it harder for them to agree on an arrangement. Most of the time, pride and ego get in the way, and it becomes more about “winning” the case, rather than coming to an agreement on what is in the best interest of the children. Sadly, there are some parents who will even stoop to using their children as pawns in order to spite the spouse. In this case, nobody wins, because it’s the children who ultimately suffer the most.
When money is involved, expect the case to last even longer. Because the Family Code states that properties acquired before and during the marriage (excluding properties acquired through inheritance or donations) belong to both spouses equally, it becomes really difficult to distribute the properties in such a way that will make them both happy. Naturally, each spouse will always claim that he/she deserves a bigger share for various reasons. It is then up to the court to decide in a fair way to divide the property between the parties. I know of cases that have dragged on for a decade or more because the parties kept arguing over the properties acquired during the marriage.