Property rules

Sorry honey… you alone must pay!

It is one nightmare that they will never forget. Spouses Ren and Lecia and several other persons were accused of murder. After trial, the court acquitted Ren, but found Lecia and another person guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.

Accordingly, the trial court ordered those found guilty to pay each of the heirs of the victims, jointly and severally, P50,000 as civil indemnity, P50,000 each as moral damages, and P150,000 actual damages. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the conviction of both accused but modified the penalty to reclusion perpetua. With respect to the monetary awards, the appellate also affirmed the award of civil indemnity and moral damages but deleted the award for actual damages for lack of evidentiary basis. In its place, however, the Court made an award of P15,000 each by way of temperate damages. In addition, the Court awarded P50,000 exemplary damages per victim to be paid solidarily by them. The decision became final and executory.


As expected, the heirs of the deceased moved to execute the monetary awards stated in the decision. The trial ordered the issuance of the writ, resulting in the levy of real properties registered in the names of Ren and Lecia. Subsequently, a notice of levy and a notice of sale on execution were issued.

Ren and Lecia filed a motion to quash the writ of execution, claiming that the levied properties were conjugal assets, not paraphernal assets of Lecia.


The trial court denied the motion. Finding that Lecia did not own any paraphernal property, the court ruled that the civil indemnities it imposed may be charged on the parties community properties. The court opined that even if Ren and Lecia were married before the effectivity of the Family Code, their property regime should now be governed by the provisions of the absolute community property regime, and no longer that of conjugal property regime since no vested rights have been acquired by each over the properties of the community. Hence, the liabilities imposed on Lecia may properly be charged against their absolute community property.

Q: What is the property relations of Ren and Lecia?
A: It is the regime of conjugal partnership of gains because they were married prior to the enactment of the Family Code and that they did not execute any prenuptial agreement.

Q: Is the court correct in its ruling that the provisions of the Family Code should be given retroactive effect?
A: While it is true that the personal stakes of each spouse in their conjugal assets are inchoate or unclear prior to the liquidation of the conjugal partnership of gains and, therefore, none of them can be said to have acquired vested rights in specific assets, it is evident that the Family Code does not intend to reach back and automatically convert into absolute community of property relation all conjugal partnerships of gains that existed before 1988 excepting only those with prenuptial agreements. In fact, the Family Code itself provides in Article 76 that marriage settlements cannot be modified except prior to marriage. Clearly, therefore, the conjugal
partnership of gains that governed the marriage between Ren and Lecia who were married prior to 1988 cannot be modified except before the celebration of that marriage.

Q: What are the instances when post-marriage modification of the property regime of the spouses can take place?
A: Post-marriage modification can take place only where: (a) the absolute community or conjugal partnership was dissolved and liquidated upon a decree of legal separation; (b) the spouses who were legally separated reconciled and agreed to revive their former property regime; (c) judicial separation of property had been had on the ground that a spouse abandons the other without just cause or fails to comply with his obligations to the family; (d) there was judicial separation of property under Article 135; (e) the spouses jointly filed a petition for the voluntary dissolution of their absolute community or conjugal partnership of gains. None of these circumstances exists in the case of Ren and Lecia.

Q: What is the applicable law in deciding whether or not the conjugal properties of Ren and Lecia may be held to answer for the civil liabilities imposed on Lecia in the murder case?
A: It is Article 122 of the Family Code which states that “The payment of personal debts contracted by the husband or the wife before or during the marriage shall not be charged to the conjugal properties partnership except insofar as they redounded to the benefit of the family.

Neither shall the fines and pecuniary indemnities imposed upon them be charged to the partnership.

However, the payment of personal debts contracted by either spouse before the marriage, that of fines and indemnities imposed upon them, as well as the support of illegitimate children of either spouse, may be enforced against the partnership assets after the responsibilities enumerated in the preceding
Article have been covered, if the spouse who is bound should have no exclusive property or if it should be insufficient; but at the time of the liquidation of the partnership, such spouse shall be charged for what has been paid for the purpose above-mentioned.


Q: Can the civil indemnity imposed on Lecia be charged on their conjugal assets?
A: No, since Ren does not dispute the court’s finding that Lecia has no exclusive property of her own, Art. 122 applies. The civil indemnity that the decision in the murder case imposed on her may be enforced against their conjugal assets after the responsibilities enumerated in Article 121 of the Family Code have been covered.

Q: What are the responsibilities enumerated in Art. 121 of the Family Code?
A: Art. 121. The conjugal partnership shall be liable for:
(1) The support of the spouse, their common children, and the legitimate children of either spouse; however, the support of illegitimate children shall be governed by the provisions of this Code on Support;
(2) All debts and obligations contracted during the marriage by the designated administrator-spouse for the benefit of the conjugal partnership of gains, or by both spouses or by one of them with the consent of the other;
(3) Debts and obligations contracted by either spouse without the consent of the other to the extent that the family may have benefited;
(4) All taxes, liens, charges, and expenses, including major or minor repairs upon the conjugal partnership property;
(5) All taxes and expenses for mere preservation made during the marriage upon the separate property of either spouse;
(6) Expenses to enable either spouse to commence or complete a professional, vocational, or other activity for self-improvement;
(7) Antenuptial debts of either spouse insofar as they have redounded to the benefit of the family;
(8) The value of what is donated or promised by both spouses in favor of their common legitimate children for the exclusive purpose of commencing or completing a professional or vocational course or other activity for self-improvement; and
(9) Expenses of litigation between the spouses unless the suit is found to be groundless.
If the conjugal partnership is insufficient to cover the foregoing liabilities, the spouses shall be solidarily liable for the unpaid balance with their separate properties.

Q: Must the heirs of the deceased victim wait for the liquidation of the conjugal partnership of Ren and Lecia before it can assert their claim for civil indemnities arising from Lecia’s conviction?

A: No. Article 121 of the Family Code allows payment of the criminal indemnities imposed on his wife, Lecia, out of the partnership assets even before these are liquidated. Indeed, it states that such indemnities “may be enforced against the partnership assets after the responsibilities enumerated in the preceding article have been covered.” No prior liquidation of those assets is required. This is not altogether unfair since Article 122 states that “at the time of liquidation of the partnership, such [offending] spouse shall be charged for what has been paid for the purposes above-mentioned.” It is important, however, that the court must shall first ascertain that, in enforcing the writ of execution on the conjugal properties of spouses Ren and Lecia for the satisfaction of the indemnities imposed by final judgment on the latter accused in the criminal cases, the responsibilities enumerated in Article 121 of the Family Code have been covered.

Source: Efren Pana vs. Heirs of Juanite, Sr, G.R. No. 164201, December 10, 2012

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis Dean, Lyceum of the Philippines University Outgoing Chairman, Philippine Association of Law Schools Mawis Law Office

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