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Breaking up the properties is a hard thing to do

After living together for about a decade, Mon left his wife, Ina. Their marriage was nullified by the Regional Trial Court on the ground of psychological incapacity. The Decision had attained finality without the proceedings for the liquidation, partition, distribution of the common properties having been resolved.

Ina filed a motion in court which sought the following affirmative reliefs: (a) appraisal of the purportedly admitted co-owned properties of the dissolved union of the parties; (b) partition of the purportedly admitted co-owned properties of the dissolved union and delivery of respondent’s share therein; (c) require the petitioner to render full accounting of all fruits accruing from the purportedly admitted co-owned properties; and (d) in the alternative the delivery of respondent’s share, and the appointment of an independent administrator/receiver of the purportedly admitted co-owned properties. Among those properties subject to her motion are the real properties located in a posh village and a luxurious condominium unit in the South.

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Mon opposed Ina’s latest move. He contended that while their real properties in the South were purchased during the parties’ union, the mortgage payments for these properties have been made after they separated in fact solely from his exclusive funds. Consequently the properties in the South must be deemed as his exclusive properties.

Q: What law will govern the property relations of a couple whose marriage was declared null and void by reason of their psychological incapacity to perform their marital obligations to each other?

A: The property relations of parties to a void marriage is governed either by Article 147 of the Family Code. Since the petitioner and the respondent suffer no legal impediment and exclusively lived with each other under a void marriage, their property relation is one of co-ownership under Article 147 of the Family Code.

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Q: Are the real properties in the South co-owned properties?

A: It depends. It must be borne in mind that Article 147 of the Family Code only applies to properties acquired by the parties while they lived exclusively with each other as husband and wife. It further bears to stress that the legal effect of a confirmation of a void ab initio marriage: it is retroactive to the time when the marriage ceremony transpired. This means then that during their 10-year cohabitation, Mon and Ina lived together merely as common-law spouses. This is where Article 147 comes in, dealing with those “properties acquired while they lived together…obtained by their joint efforts, work or industry…” and the joint effort includes “the care and maintenance of the family and of the household.”

Ina’s insistence of the common ownership of the moneys and properties accumulated subsequent to the de facto separation would have been correct if the properties had to be liquidated (such as in a spouse’s death) and an official declaration of nullity of marriage was never secured.

After the judicial declaration, Mon and Ina’s relationship was relegated to a common-law marriage, and their cohabitation, i.e., living together exclusively as husband and wife, was only for a period of 10 years. Obviously, the “cohabitation” of the parties will definitely not include the years since Mon left Ina and the family home.

The properties in the South were acquired during the period of the parties’ cohabitation had not yet been fully paid at the time they separated. For as long as the property had been purchased, whether on installment, financing or other mode of payment, during the period of cohabitation, the disputable presumption that they have been obtained by the parties’ joint efforts, work or industry, and shall be owned by them in equal shares, shall arise. Applied in this case, since the said properties were purchased while Mon and Ina were living together, it is presumed that both parties contributed in their acquisition through their joint efforts (which includes one’s efforts in the care and maintenance of the family and of the household), work or industry. Thus, the properties must be divided between them equally.

It must be borne in mind, however, that the presumption that the properties are co-owned and thus must be shared equally is not conclusive but merely disputable. Mon may rebut the presumption by presenting proof that the properties, although acquired during the period of their cohabitation, were not obtained through their joint efforts, work and industry. In such a case, the properties shall belong solely to him alone. If Ina, on the other hand, will be able to present proof that she contributed through her salary, income, work or industry in the acquisition of the properties, the parties’ share shall be in proportion to their contributions. In the event that Ina had not been able to contribute through her salary, income, work or industry, but was able to show that she cared for and maintained the family and the household, her efforts shall be deemed the equivalent of the contributions made by the petitioner. However, equal sharing of the entire properties is not possible in this scenario since the Southern properties were still being amortized when the parties separated. As such, Ina’s equal share shall only pertain to the paid portion before their separation, for in this peculiar kind of co-ownership, the partnership is considered terminated upon the parties’ separation or desistance to continue said relations. Hence, from the moment of separation, there is no more family or household to speak of that the respondent could have cared for or maintained. If Ina’s allegations were true that Mon got the funds from their common fund then Ina’s would have an equal share in such portions because the payments made therefor were actually taken from the co-ownership.

(Source: Paterno vs. Paterno, G.R. No. 213687, Jan. 08, 2020)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is Dean, Lyceum of the Philippines University; Mawis Law Office; member, Board of Trustees, Philippine Association of Law Schools

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