G.R. No. L-53880, 17 March 1994
Concepcion Alanis filed a complaint on October 1979, for the Declaration of Nullity of Marriage between her erstwhile husband Enrico Pacete and one Clarita de la Concepcion, as well as for legal separation between her and Pacete, accounting and separation of property. She averred in her complaint that she was married to Pacete on April 1938 and they had a child named Consuelo; that Pacete subsequently contracted a second marriage with Clarita de la Concepcion and that she learned of such marriage only on August 1979. Reconciliation between her and Pacete was impossible since he evidently preferred to continue living with Clarita.
The defendants were each served with summons. They filed an extension within which to file an answer, which the court partly granted. Due to unwanted misunderstanding, particularly in communication, the defendants failed to file an answer on the date set by the court. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion to declare the defendants in default, which the court forthwith granted. The court received plaintiffs’ evidence during the hearings held on February 15, 20, 21, and 22, 1980. After trial, the court rendered a decision in favor of the plaintiff on March 17, 1980.
Whether or not the RTC gravely abused its discretion in denying petitioner’s motion for extension of time to file their answer, in declaring petitioners in default and in rendering its decision on March 17, 1980 which decreed the legal separation of Pacete and Alanis and held to be null and void the marriage of Pacete to Clarita.
The Civil Code provides that “no decree of legal separation shall be promulgated upon a stipulation of facts or by confession of judgment. In case of non-appearance of the defendant, the court shall order the prosecuting attorney to inquire whether or not collusion between parties exists. If there is collusion, the prosecuting attorney shall intervene for the State in order to take care that the evidence for the plaintiff is not fabricated.”
The above stated provision calling for the intervention of the state attorneys in case of uncontested proceedings for legal separation (and of annulment of marriages, under Article 88) is to emphasize that marriage is more than a mere contract.
Article 103 of the Civil Code, now Article 58 of the Family Code, further mandates that an action for legal separation must “in no case be tried before six months shall have elapsed since the filing of the petition,” obviously in order to provide the parties a “cooling-off” period. In this interim, the court should take steps toward getting the parties to reconcile.
The significance of the above substantive provisions of the law is further or underscored by the inclusion of a provision in Rule 18 of the Rules of Court which provides that no defaults in actions for annulments of marriage or for legal separation. Therefore, “if the defendant in an action for annulment of marriage or for legal separation fails to answer, the court shall order the prosecuting attorney to investigate whether or not collusion between the parties exists, and if there is no collusion, to intervene for the State in order to see to it that the evidence submitted is not fabricated.”
* Case digest by Aileen B. Buenafe , LLB-1, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2017-2018