There is generally no divorce allowed the Philippines, but a marriage between a Filipino and a foreigner is a special case. The Philippines will recognize the divorce of a Filipino obtained abroad by the foreign spouse.
[Note: As of April 24, 2018, this rule has been expanded so that even if it was the Filipino who filed for divorce from the foreign spouse, that divorce will also be recognized in the Philippines.]
This follows from the second paragraph of Article 26 of the Family Code of the Philippines:
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 have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.
Do you need to have your divorce recognized?
You were previously married, but your foreign spouse obtained a divorce. You now want official Philippine records to reflect that you are no longer married to your ex-spouse.
Do you need to have the divorce recognized in the Philippines? Yes, most likely.
A simple way to check is to make a request with the Philippine Statistics Office for an Advisory on Marriage or a Certificate of No Marriage (CENOMAR).
Since a clear CENOMAR is typically needed to get a marriage license in the Philippines, the result will inform you of where you stand.
Even if the CENOMAR comes clear, you may yet want to have your foreign divorce recognized. Although you might technically be able to have a wedding ceremony again in this country, legal issues concerning properties, legitimacy, inheritance, spousal support and marital rights will cause difficulties down the line.
How can the foreign divorce be recognized in the Philippines?
It is not a simple matter of presenting a copy of your foreign divorce decree to a Philippine government office.
Recognition is a judicial process where both the foreign divorce and the foreign divorce law need to be proven in Court. You will need to file a Petition for Recognition of Foreign Divorce with the Regional Trial Court in the Philippines. You will need to get a lawyer to prepare and conduct the case.
When you talk to a lawyer, you should disclose the whole picture to him, providing honest and complete details about your ex-spouse, your citizenships, your marriage and divorce. He will need to know the specific places and dates of events. He will also need clear, accurate copies of your marriage and divorce documents so that he can assess them himself. (Do not edit the facts or be afraid to disclose everything to the lawyer you consult. He needs to know these facts in order to do a good job. And a lawyer is bound to confidentiality by his Code of Ethics.)
Don’t be embarrassed by whatever you need to tell your lawyer. Don’t hesitate to ask him any questions you may have.
In the meantime, you can begin to put together some of the documents your lawyer will need to review and which you’ll eventually have to submit to the Court.
What are the documents you should prepare?
- Philippine marriage certificate/record if the marriage was in the country
- Official marriage certificate/record from the foreign country if the marriage was abroad
- Report of Marriage of a Filipino married abroad (if one was filed with the DFA)
- Official copies of your foreign divorce documents
- Certified copy of the foreign country’s divorce law
- Proofs of citizenship
Note that this is a general list. Depending on the particular foreign country involved, and depending on the particular case, there may be other documents necessary. This is because different countries have different divorce processes and different kinds of marriage and divorce documents.
These documents can be merely scanned copies when you first send them to your lawyer. The value of having these documents is firstly that they allow your counsel a clear view of the circumstances. Reviewing them will also allow him to advise you of what other documents you may need to get.
However, these documents will eventually have to be presented to the Regional Trial Court with the Petition. For it to accept these documents, the Court needs to be assured that they are genuine.
The Philippine documents will need to have been officially certified by the correct government office (Civil Registrar/Philippines Statistics Authority/Department of Foreign Affairs/etc.)
The foreign documents, on the other hand, will need to be certified by the correct foreign office and they will need to be authenticated (Red Ribboned) by the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Philippine embassy in the foreign country. If a foreign document is not in English, then its certified English translation is also needed and this also has to be authenticated by the DFA.
Can this be done while I am abroad?
Yes. That the petitioner is abroad while the case is being prepared can actually be beneficial. If foreign documents need to be secured in the foreign country, it is then often easiest for the petitioner to get them there herself.
Much of the remaining preparation can be done in remote coordination with your lawyer over the internet.
Once trial begins, the petitioner should ideally come to testify on at least one of the hearing dates. This hearing date can be scheduled well ahead of time to account for travel and leave limitations.
However, if it is not possible for the petitioner to testify, she can appoint a personal representative to appear on her behalf. The advisability of doing this will depend on how well and completely the documents presented can prove the facts of the case.
What is the court process for the recognition of foreign divorce?
After gathering the facts and the needed documents, the lawyer will draft the Petition for Recognition of Foreign Divorce which needs to be signed by the lawyer and sworn to by the petitioner. This Petition will then be filed with the Regional Trial Court in the correct city or province. Attached to the Petition will be copies of the relevant documents.
The case will then be raffled to one of the RTC’s branches in that city or province. The RTC branch that gets the case will check whether the petitioner or her lawyer have any family relation to the Court’s personnel, and take measures to preserve impartiality. Then the RTC will order that the substance of the Petition be published in a random newspaper once a week for 3 weeks. The case will be calendared for first hearing and notices of this will be served to the Philippine government offices concerned, to the last known address of the ex-spouse, and to any other required parties.
Proof that these notices were served needs to be shown on the first hearing date. After that, the lawyer will have the documents of the case marked into the record of the Court.
As you can see, this is a court process with extensive pre-hearing requirements. The trial itself requires the presentation of witnesses and other evidence, as well as written memoranda, before the Court will make a ruling.
The testimony of a witness will be through a judicial affidavit. A judicial affidavit is used in order to speed up the trial. In a judicial affidavit, the lawyer’s questions and the answers of the witness are set into writing and notarized before the hearing. This way, no matter how long the written testimony is, under her lawyer’s guidance the witness will simply identify and affirm this judicial affidavit in Court in order to complete her direct testimony. She can then be cross-examined by the government lawyer to verify her statements. On cross-examination, she will be asked follow up questions about her marriage and divorce.
After all the evidence is submitted, the lawyer will submit to the RTC a legal document known as a Formal Offer of Evidence and also a final Memorandum. Absent active opposition by other parties, we will then await the Court’s Decision. The waiting after these submissions would probably take a few months because of the clogged court dockets.
Assuming it is favorable, the Decision can thereafter be registered with the civil registrar and the Philippine Statistics Authority for annotation on the marriage record.
How long does it take?
The trial can take about a year to about a year and a half to finish from date of filing. Apart from the notice requirements (service of summons and publication), the reason it can take so long is because of the heavy backlog of court cases. Philippine courts tend to handle many, many cases at any given time. Even though only a few hearing dates are needed in a Petition for Recognition of Foreign Divorce, these are sometimes scheduled months apart because the calendars of the courts are so crowded.
Also, sometimes side issues come up which need to be resolved so that the case can move forward.
While lawyers can ask to be accommodated by the Court with closer hearing dates, sometimes this is out of their hands. What lawyers can assure is the quality of their work and their diligence in order to prevent avoidable delays. That is why it is important to make the most of every hearing date. By doing so, it may be possible to finish the case in a shorter period of time.
What are the costs involved?
A case for recognition of foreign divorce entails different costs.
There are the minimal fees to be paid to government offices for the certified copies of documents. Then there are the fees charged by the Department of Foreign Affairs or Philippine embassy for authenticating public documents.
When the Petition is filed, there is an initial filing fee collected by the Court. There is also a requirement for the publication of the Petition in a small newspaper chosen by the Court. There are other expenses associated with the court proceedings, such as for the court transcripts, photocopying, postage, and messengerial expenses.
A lawyer’s professional fees are dependent on several factors, among them the difficulty of a particular case, the logistics involved, how much further investigation and liasoning with government offices are needed, and other specific circumstances. Professional fees are divided into the lawyer’s acceptance fee for the case, by which he commits his time to study and analyze the facts, commits to represent the client, and to prepare the Petition for Recognition, the subsequent fees for the other written pleadings he must submit to the Court, and court appearance fees for each hearing. These fees are agreed on during the early consultations with the lawyer, after the circumstances of the case are better known.
Related reading: Foreign divorce and the former Filipino citizen