Expert testimonies in marriage annulment cases

With Tan-Andal v. Andal promulgated in May 2021, the Supreme Court shifted to a totally different paradigm about psychological incapacity. It declared it a legal concept. A pronouncement that contradicts and abandons the long-adhered Molina doctrine, which held it a medical condition.

With Tan-Andal as the new doctrine, the Highest Court did away with the necessity for an expert witness. The medical expert under the Molina doctrine was the star of the show. His testimony was vital in proving the party’s psychological incapacity. This assisted courts to declare the marriage null. Tan-Andal reinforced other cases promulgated after Molina about the dispensability of an expert. It seemingly finally put an end to the need for such when it categorically held that psychological incapacity is not a medical condition. So today, must an expert witness be dispensed with?

The case of Elizabeth A. Alberto v. Jose Luis R. Alberto and the Republic of the Philippines (G.R. 236827 promulgated on 19 April 2022) is certainly instructive. In this case, Elizabeth filed for a declaration of nullity of her marriage on the ground of her husband’s psychological incapacity. She presented a psychologist to prove her cause. The latter found the spouse of Elizabeth psychologically incapacitated. The trial court after receiving all the evidence granted Elizabeth’s petition. The Office of the Solicitor-General was not in agreement, however. It went up to the Court of Appeals, which took the side of the Solicitor-General and overturned the trial court.

With the ruling reversed against her, Elizabeth pleaded her case before the Supreme Court. The Highest Court, ruling in her favor, decided the case in light of the Tan-Andal case. It said, “as the Court clarified in Tan-Andal, proof of the aspects of personality of the spouses need not be given by an expert. Ordinary witnesses who have known the spouses before the latter contracted marriage may testify on behavior that they have consistently observed from the supposedly incapacitated spouse. From there, the judge will decide if the behaviors are indicative of a true and serious incapacity to assume the essential marital obligations… Because psychological incapacity is not a medical illness that has to be medically or clinically identified, expert opinion is not required… When they are present and made available, however, courts must give due regard to expert opinion, particularly on the parties’ psychological and mental disposition. The presentation of expert testimony to prove that a person is suffering from an incurable mental illness, while dispensable, may be deemed as compelling evidence in resolving the issue of psychological incapacity. In any event, each case must be judged according to its own facts, guided by the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, among others.”

The Supreme Court in the same case, even delved into the issue when the expert is not able to interview the respondent. “It should also be stressed that the fact that the respondent-spouse was not interviewed by the psychologist does not lessen the weight of the latter’s report. Cases even prior to Tan-Andal have already settled that experts’ findings on either of the spouses’ psychological incapacity obtained from direct, personal examination is not an absolute and indispensable requirement. As the nature of marriage is a relation between two individuals, information obtained from either party to the marriage may suffice to inform an expert’s assessment. Lack of personal examination and interview of the respondent, does not per se invalidate the testimonies of the doctors.

Neither do their findings automatically constitute hearsay that would result in its exclusion as evidence.”

Undoubtedly, expert testimony is still material today. Personally, I believe there should be an expert. If testimonies are confined to that of ordinary witnesses, the trial court might be hard put in finding the respondent psychologically incapacitated. It still takes an expert to tie up all these testimonies and show the court why they sum up to psychological incapacity. The expert’s testimony is even more indispensable in cases where the petitioner only has one or a few witnesses who superficially testify about the respondent’s behavior before marriage. The expert through his clinical eye will indubitably enlighten the court on how such behavior ante-marriage is constitutive of psychological incapacity.

So for me, I recommend, as I still do, the use of an expert.

The facts and quoted findings are taken from Alberto v. Alberto as cited above.

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