Marriage annulment is a notoriously lengthy, costly and challenging process to undertake. But it can all change under this proposed bill.
House Bill 6779 or “An Act Recognizing the Civil Effects of Church Annulment Decrees” has recently been approved by the House of Representatives on its third and final reading. The bill seeks to have church annulments recognized as the same as court annulments.
“Once this bill becomes law, a declaration of nullity decreed by the church will hold as much weight and have the same effect as a civil annulment. This removes the burden of undergoing the civil annulment process,” Leyte Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt-Romualdez, one of the main authors of the bill, told The Philippine Star.
In the current setup, even if a husband and wife already have a church annulment, they are still married before the eyes of the law until the marriage is annulled in court — a legal process that can take several years. Many factors including the trial schedules, availability of the parties and their witnesses, custody and property distribution issues, and too many cases and too few judges can delay an annulment, explained Atty. Nikki Jimeno in an article for SmartParenting.com.ph on why annulments can take so long.
Church annulment approval used to require two church tribunals. Pope Francis made the process simpler in 2015 when bishops were given the power to judge the case themselves. The Pope also ordered that, as much as possible, the entire annulment process be free of charge.
Grounds for the Catholic Church to annul a marriage include a spouse’s lack of faith, a spouse’s lack of psychological maturity, a forced marriage using violence, a lack of a desire to have children, hiding infidelities, a grave contagious disease, or a medical proof of an abortion.
With the House Bill 6779, “the said annulment shall have the same effect as a decree of annulment issued by a competent court,” the bill proposes. It also applies to other churches and religious sects. The specified the annulment needs to be recorded in a civil registry within 30 days from its issuance.
Here are three more key items House Bill 6779, which will now go to the Senate for approval, is proposing:
On the matter of children, the status of the children will be determined by the provisions of the Family Code of the Philippines. For example, “children who were born to a marriage that was later declared void due to the psychological incapacity of one or both of the spouses are considered legitimate,” explained Atty. Jimeno. (See when a child is considered illegitimate after an annulment and other related info here.)
On distributing properties and the custody of the children, a public document stating the agreement of the spouses is required. “In case no agreement is met, the provisions of the Family Code of the Philippines shall be in force,” stated the press release from the House of Representatives.
On remarrying, the former spouse must comply with the requirements of the Family Code of the Philippines and the civil registry recording mentioned above. “In securing a marriage license, the spouse involved must present a true certified copy of the church annulment decree registered with the appropriate civil registry,” said the release. In an annulment, it is presumed that the marriage was never valid from the start. Hence, the spouses can remarry.
“The good of our children and the good of society hang in the balance with every decision to declare a marriage null and void,” Romualdez, the vice chairperson of the House committee on government enterprises and privatization, told The Philippine Star.