July 27, 2011
Seeking support from a husband abroad
My sister got married at a very young age. She and her husband were still in school when she got pregnant. After four children, her husband left for the US to search for greener pasture. After only one year there, he married another woman, got her pregnant, and seek divorce from my sister.
Her husband and new wife are not ashamed to post their photos on a social network site which his children have access to. My sister and her children are suffering from so much pain, anxiety, and he has put them in a very shameful situation.
My sister was not able to finish school, has no work experience, and needs to support her four children.
We, her family, are currently supporting her and her children, but for how long, we are not sure, because we are not earning big, and we also have our own family to support.
What are the legal rights of my sister and her children? And, is it possible for her husband to file for divorce there?
Atty. Allen Liberato replies:
I suppose the most urgent issue is the support that your brother-in-law owes to your sister and her children, so allow me to discuss your sister's options for this issue first.
The fact that your brother-in-law is abroad makes your case more complicated as the courts will not be able to acquire personal jurisdiction over him. The first concrete step that your sister can take is to ask a lawyer to send a demand letter to her husband, asking for the amount of support that you feel is sufficient. Take note that Article 194 of the Family Code defines "support" as comprising "everything indispensible for sustenance, dwelling, clothing, medical attendance, education and transportation, in keeping with the financial capacity of the family."
Your sister's husband is not only obliged to support his children, but also his wife, under Article 195 (1), assuming that they are still validly married. In the event that he refuses to provide the proper support, your sister can also demand support for her children from her husbands' parents, as they are also alternatively liable for support of their grandchildren.
If both your sister's husband and parents-in-law refuse to provide support, your sister may be forced to file the proper petition for support against them before the Family Court. Your sister may consult the Public Attorney's Office where she resides to know more about this procedure. They are authorized and mandated to handle civil cases for indigent litigants like your sister.
The law provides several recourses for disadvantaged women like your sister. Aside from filing a petition for support, you can also file for damages if his husband and his new wife's actions are causing you and your children emotional suffering and trauma. However, an action for damages is essentially a personal action. As such, it cannot prosper if the courts are unable to acquire personal jurisdiction over the respondent (your sister's husband), unless the action is accompanied by attachment of your brother-in-law's properties in the Philippines. This procedure may be properly explained to your sister when she consults the Public Attorney's Office.
Finally, it might also be a good thing to keep your ears on the ground for any indication that your sister's husband is coming home to the Philippines. If he happens to be in the country, the easiest way to proceed against him is to file a criminal action for violation of Republic Act No. 9262, or Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act of 2004.
RA 9262 is an interesting and responsive piece of legislation in that it addresses the other forms of violence, aside from physical violence, that women and children suffer from. Based on the facts that you shared, your sister and her children have a cause of action under RA 9262 for emotional violence and economic abuse, both of which are forms of violence recognized and punishable under the law. Again, however, your sister's husband will have to be present in the Philippines for the criminal action to prosper because the penalty includes imprisonment.
I am told that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) also offers additional remedies for families that are seeking support from loved ones working abroad. Your sister may want to inquire with the OWWA office on how she may file a complaint or action.
You also asked whether or not it is possible to marry in the Philippines and get a divorce abroad. My answer is, it depends. It is common knowledge that divorce is prohibited in the Philippines, and this prohibition applies to Filipino citizens, even though they are living abroad. However, a valid divorce decree becomes binding on a Filipino couple when one of the spouses becomes a naturalized citizen of a country where divorce is allowed.
In the case of Republic vs. Orbecido (G.R. No. 154380, October 5, 2005), the Supreme Court had occasion to clarify that a valid decree of divorce is binding on both spouses—causing the marital relations to be severed—only when the divorcing spouse is a naturalized citizen at the time the divorce decree is granted, and not at the time of the second marriage. As such, if you want to know whether or not the supposed divorce is binding on your sister, you need to find out if her husband has actually been naturalized. If yes, then you need to know if the naturalization happened on or before the divorce was obtained. If not, then your sister and her husband remain married under Philippine law.
If you have questions for Atty. Allen, email email@example.com.
Atty. Allen A. Liberato is head of Corporate Legal Affairs at strategic marketing communications firm TeamAsia. She earned her Bachelor's Degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman and her law education from the University of Perpetual Help under Dean Justice Isagani A. Cruz.