Civil Law

LIM v. STA. CRUZ-LIM G.R. No. 176464 February 4, 2010 Declaration of Nullity of Marriage, Psychological Incapacity


Petitioner Edward N. Lim and respondent Maria Cheryl Sta. Cruz-Lim met in 1978 in Cebu, where petitioner, who resides in Makati City, spent a semestral break from college; and respondent was a boarder in petitioner’s uncle’s house. 

After less than a year of courtship via long distance phone calls, petitioner and respondent became sweethearts in early 1979. Within that year, or on December 8, 1979, the two were wed at the Don Bosco Church in Makati City.

As is customary among those of Chinese descent, petitioner and respondent lived with the former’s grandparents and parents in Forbes Park, Makati City. The couple was blessed with three (3) children: Lester Edward, Candice Grace, and Mariano III.

During their stay in Forbes Park, all living, household and medical expenses were paid and provided by petitioner’s grandparents. Petitioner’s salary of ₱6,000.00 for working in the family distillery went straight to respondent. Despite all these, respondent continued to insist that they live separately and independently from petitioner’s family.

On October 14, 1990, respondent registered a complaint, which was recorded in the police blotter of the Makati City police, about a prior incident where she caught petitioner in their house in a compromising situation with the stay-in caregiver of petitioner’s grandmother. This incident landed on the pages of a tabloid newspaper, Abante, where petitioner, his grandparents’ house and the family business were all named and identified. Naturally, this caused embarrassment and humiliation to petitioner and to the rest of his family and relatives.

Also, on that same day, respondent left petitioner and brought with her their 3 children. Respondent forcibly opened their cabinet and cleaned out the contents thereof, which included petitioner’s passport, jewelry, and a land title in petitioner’s name.

Respondent likewise filed a criminal complaint for Concubinage and Physical Injuries against petitioner which was eventually dismissed by the investigating prosecutor for lack of merit.

Subsequently, respondent filed an action for support against petitioner and petitioner’s parents. The trial court directed petitioner to give a monthly support,  and, in case of his inability to do so, petitioner’s parents were also decreed to give a monthly support for the three minor children.

On October 29, 1999, petitioner filed a petition and sought the declaration of nullity of his marriage to respondent on the ground of the latter’s psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code. Three years thereafter, on July 22, 2002, petitioner filed an amended petition including an allegation of his own psychological incapacity, as both he and respondent were diagnosed with personality disorders—dependent personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder, respectively.

Following the exchange of pleadings between the parties, petitioner presented evidence, which consisted of the testimonies of Dr. Cecilia C. Villegas, a psychiatrist; and Maxima Adato, petitioner’s co-employee in the distillery. In addition, petitioner offered in evidence Dr. Villegas’ Psychiatric Report, which concluded that the parties were suffering from personality disorders. Respondent, despite filing an Answer to the petition denying the allegations therein, waived her right to present evidence.

Based on the foregoing, primarily on the Psychiatric Report, the RTC declared the marriage between petitioner and respondent null and void as the two were psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations.

As regards the custody of the children, considering that all of them are over seven (7) years of age, the Court shall take into account the choice of each of the child, unless the Court finds compelling reasons to order otherwise.

Disagreeing completely with the RTC’s disposition, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appealed to the CA, questioning the RTC’s finding that the parties were psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations. The appellate court granted the OSG’s appeal and reversed the trial court.

Hence, this petition for review on certiorari.


Whether the marriage between petitioner and respondent is null and void on the ground of the parties’ psychological incapacity.


We deny the petition.

The seminal ruling in Santos v. Court of Appeals9 cites three (3) factors characterizing psychological incapacity to perform the essential marital obligations: 

(1) gravity, (2) juridical antecedence, (3) incurability. We expounded on the foregoing, to wit:

The incapacity must be grave or serious such that the party would be incapable of carrying out the ordinary duties required in marriage; it must be rooted in the history of the party antedating the marriage, although the overt manifestations may emerge only after the marriage; and it must be incurable or, even if it were otherwise, the cure would be beyond the means of the party involved.

Given the foregoing stringent requisites and without going into the non-exclusive list found in Republic v. Court of Appeals, petitioner, as the party alleging his own psychological incapacity and that of his spouse, had the special albatross to prove that he and his wife were suffering from “the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage.”

In this case, Dr. Villegas’ global conclusion of both parties’ personality disorders was not supported by psychological tests properly administered by clinical psychologists specifically trained in the tests’ use and interpretation. The supposed personality disorders of the parties, considering that such diagnoses were made, could have been fully established by psychometric and neurological tests which are designed to measure specific aspects of people’s intelligence, thinking, or personality.

Concededly, a copy of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV), or any of the psychology textbooks, does not transform a lawyer or a judge into a professional psychologist. A judge should not substitute his own psychological assessment of the parties for that of the psychologist or the psychiatrist. However, a judge has the bounden duty to rule on what the law is, as applied to a certain set of facts. Certainly, as in all other litigations involving technical or special knowledge, a judge must first and foremost resolve the legal question based on law and jurisprudence.

The expert opinion of a psychiatrist arrived at after a maximum of seven (7) hours of interview, and unsupported by separate psychological tests, cannot tie the hands of the trial court and prevent it from making its own factual finding on what happened in this case. The probative force of the testimony of an expert does not lie in a mere statement of his theory or opinion, but rather in the assistance that he can render to the courts in showing the facts that serve as a basis for his criterion and the reasons upon which the logic of his conclusion is founded.

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED.

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