What Is "Psychological Incapacity?"

What's the meaning of "psychological incapacity?"

I'm a psychotherapist, not an attorney. But it's a question I'm invariably asked by some in marital crisis considering the legal route. In the Philippines, the premise "psychological incapacity" is a common ground used (whether appropriately or not) by those seeking legal annulment (divorce) of their marriage.

To "legalize" an ongoing adulterous relationship, a Filipino OFW woman filed for annulment of her marriage in a provincial Regional Trial Court. She cited "psychological incapacity" on the part of her husband who is a Christian missionary/pastor/Bible teacher. Mixing truths with half-truths/untruths, she alleged insufficient family finances, irresponsibility, "excess bible studies," children neglect, even regular physical cruelty, among other things. Based on Article 36 of the Philippine Family Code, the question now is, are these alleged acts of the husband sufficient proofs that he's "psychologically incapacitated" to perform essential marital obligations as to render his/her marriage null and void?

If one is to base on an article titled "DIFFICULTY, NOT INCAPACITY" in The Philippine Star (3/17/2011) written by author/TV host Atty. Jose Sison along with his cited SCRA 389 decision on the case Toring vs. Toring, G.R. 165821, Aug. 3, 2010, the answer is NO. The above woman's characterizations of her husband "do not rise to the level of a psychological incapacity required under the Family Code."

According to Atty. Sison, Article 36 of the Family Code "contemplates downright incapacity or inability to take cognizance of and assume marital responsibilities." "Mere difficulty," Atty. Sison writes, "refusal, or neglect in the performance of marital obligations or ill will on the part of the spouse is different from 'incapacity rooted on some debilitating psychological conditions or illness'. "

Legally, based on Article 36 of the Family Code, "psychological incapacity" then is a condition that's required to be established as a manifestation of a disordered personality, completely preventing a person from discharging marital obligations. In cases like this, psychologists and psychiatrists are called to give expert diagnoses and opinions.

Now, let me just say that this is merely a human "legal" view and process. Experience strongly evidences that it can often be manipulated or used as cover up. "Legal" is different from "spiritual" or what God sees as right and healthy for marriages. Not all legal is right and moral then. Scripturally, there's no such thing as "psychological incapacity" as ground for divorce. The Lord Jesus Himself explains the ground for divorce in Matthew 5:32.



A Law Each Day
by Atty. Jose Sison
May 24, 2011


It turned out that Nona (wife) was an unfaithful spouse (to husband Rey). Even at the onset of their marriage when Rey was assigned in various parts of the country, she had illicit relations with other men. Apparently, she did not change her ways when they lived together at the Fort because she entertained male visitors in her bedroom whenever Rey was out of their living quarters. On one occasion, Nona was caught by their security aide having sex with Rey's driver. Because of the rumors about Nona's sexual infidelity circulating in the military community, Rey got a military pass from his jail warden and confronted Nona.

During the confrontation, Nona and the driver admitted their relationship. So Rey drove Nona away from their living quarters. Nona then went back to Basilan together with Nina their adopted daughter, although Nina subsequently left Nona and came to live with Rey.

Thereafter Rey filed a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) on the ground of psychological incapacity of Nona to fulfill the essential obligations of marriage. Nona however did not answer or file any responsive pleading. During the hearing, Rey and his two security aides testified together with a psychiatrist who made a report that Nona had a "Histrionic Personality Disorder" characterized by excessive emotion and attention seeking behavior based on her interview of Rey and the two security aides only and not of Nona.

On January 11, 1999, the RTC granted the petition and nullified Rey and Nona's marriage. The RTC said that Nona's psychological incapacity was grave, incurable, and has juridical antecedence. Was the RTC correct?

No. While Nona has indeed been sexually disloyal to Rey, the totality of her acts does not constitute psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code. Her "defects" or alleged psychological incapacity have not been shown to be present at the inception of, or prior to, the marriage and thus did not satisfy the jurisprudential requisite of "juridical antecedence."

The psychiatrist's conclusion that Nona's Histrionic Personality Disorder which made her helplessly prone to promiscuity and sexual infidelity existed prior to her marriage to Rey, cannot be taken as credible proof of antecedence since the method by which it was reached leaves much to be desired in terms of the standard of evidence required to determine psychological incapacity. It did not emanate from a personal interview with Nona. She evaluated Nona's psychological condition indirectly from Rey and his witnesses which may be tainted with bias for Rey's cause in the absence of corroboration. Nona's dysfunctional family portrait which brought about her Histrionic Personality Disorder as painted by the psychiatrist was based solely on the assumed truthful knowledge of Rey, the spouse who has most to gain if his wife is found to be psychologically incapacitated.

Article 36 of the Family Code of the Philippines is not to be confused with a divorce law that cuts the marital bond at the time the causes manifest themselves. Article 36 does not really dissolve a marriage; it simply recognizes that there was never any marriage in the first place because of the psychological illness afflicting a party even before the celebration of the marriage. It is a malady so grave and so permanent as to deprive one of awareness of the duties of the matrimonial bond (Ochosa vs Alano and Republic, G.R. 167459, January 26, 2011).