A Tale Of Two Countries: Divorce and Conjugal Property

We usually hear more of cases involving Filipinos going after aliens, marrying them for for their money. But seldom have we heard of aliens going after Filipinos. Let me make myself clear, I am not talking about a drug syndicate here. I am here to discuss with you how you, as a Filipino homeowner protect your Filipino Homes.

Divorce is probably the most common option for every married individual who wanted to live separately and sever their marital bonds. But that option is not available to Filipinos. You see, Filipinos are so special that they aren’t qualified to get a divorce. The only country that do not allow divorce (aside from Vatican City, but that’s a given considering that’s where the Pope lives) is the Philippines. Because of this, the most common issue on divorce in the Philippines is one involving a mixed marriage - one of the spouses is an alien or both spouses are Filipinos when they got married and eventually, one spouse became an alien while the other one remains as a Filipino citizen.

As your resident real estate lawyer, I’ll give you a tour on the issues affecting properties located here in the Philippines, when an alien divorces a Filipino. To give you a better perspective of our topic, let’s take this example.

Supposing H and W got married. H, the husband, is an American citizen while W, the wife, is a Filipino citizen. After getting married they decided to live in the Philippines where they built their family.

Things did not go well between the couple and so, H, being an American citizen, applied for divorce in the US and eventually obtained a valid divorce. (This is a given since our topic is about divorce, right?)

So, after the divorce, H stayed in the US while W remained in the Philippines and put up a small business. Years have passed, W, is now mega filthy rich, wearing her Hermes Kelly Bag and Louboutin pumps, with botox and fillers on her face and has a 23-year old basketball player boyfriend.

H, who is very familiar with Philippine laws, learned about his ex-wife’s success and young boyfriend. H then decided to fly to the Philippines and disregared the divorce, thinking that the divorce obtained abroad is only valid in the US and other countries that has divorce and is therefore, not recognized under Philippine laws.

Upon his arrival, H went to court and demanded his share from W, alleging that the properties owned by W are considered conjugal property.

Now you may ask, why is it important to categorize the disputed properties as conjugal or not? Under Article 116 of the Family Code, all property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be conjugal and as such, shall belong to both spouses jointly (Art. 124, Family Code).

In our example, even if H has no participation in the reaping of the disputed properties, if the disputed properties are conjugal in nature, H still gets half of everything. Otherwise, H gets nothing. In simpler terms, H disregarded the divorce he obtained from the US court in order to demand his share in the conjugal property.

How will the court decide on an issue involving two different citizens, where one’s country recognizes divorce while the other does not?

In the case of Van Dorn vs. Romillo [139 SCRA 139, No. L-68470 (October 8, 1985)], the Supreme Court ruled that "aliens may obtain divorces abroad, which may be recognized in the Philippines, provided they are valid according to their national law."

Applying the foregoing, if the divorce obtained by H is valid under the laws of the United States of America, the said divorce is recognized in the Philippines. Thus, H is no longer the husband of W for the reason that he is bound by the divorce granted by his own country's court.  In other words, Philippine laws acknowledged the divorce obtained by H and in the eyes of the law, H is no longer married to W.

This landmark case my friends, has opened several doors for Filipinos who were tired of being deprived of their Filipino dream home. This opened the doors for an amendment, by virtue of E.O. 227, of Art. 26 of the Family Code which now reads:

“All marriages solemnized outside the Philippines in accordance with the laws in force in the country where they were solemnized, and valid there as such, shall also be valid in this country, except those prohibited under Articles 35 (1), (4), (5) and (6), 36, 37 and 38.

“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 likewise have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.”

“The second paragraph was inserted as an amendment by Executive Order No. 227, July 17, 1987 to apply to marriages of Filipino citizens to foreigners. Usually, foreigners divorce their Filipino spouses. Since the divorce is valid under the national law of the alien, the Filipino spouse can remarry. Without the second paragraph of Article 26 of the Family Code, the Filipino spouse remained married even if her foreign husband obtained divorce abroad. This provision applies only when the foreign spouse seeks the divorce. It will not apply if the Filipino spouse secures the divorce.” [Pleading and Proving Foreign Law and Divorce Judgments, 366 SCRA 457, October 2, 2001]

As to the issue on whether or not the disputed properties were conjugal property, the answer must be resolved in the negative. Since conjugal property refers to property acquired during marriage, the disputed properties were acquired only after the marriage has ended. Hence, the disputed properties being non-conjugal, belong solely to W and H has no legal capacity to demand his share from the properties.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s article. God bless us all!


Your resident lawyer and real estate broker.
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