Retroactivity of the Family Code

Concept: Retroactivity. This Code shall have retroactive effect insofar as it does not prejudice or impair vested or acquired rights in accordance with the Civil Code or other laws. (Article 256, Family Code)

Concept: Vested right. A vested right is one whose existence, effectivity and extent do not depend upon events foreign to the will of the holder, or to the exercise of which no obstacle exists, and which is immediate and perfect in itself and not dependent upon a contingency. The term “vested right” expresses the concept of present fixed interest which, in right reason and natural justice, should be protected against arbitrary State action, or an innately just and imperative right which enlightened free society, sensitive to inherent and irrefragable individual rights, cannot deny. (Go, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 172027, 29 July 2010)

Same; Become a title. To be vested, a right must have become a title—legal or equitable—to the present or future enjoyment of property. (Ibid.)

Same; Constitutional guarantee of due process. The concept of “vested right” is a consequence of the constitutional guaranty of due process that expresses a present fixed interest which in right reason and natural justice is protected against arbitrary state action; it includes not only legal or equitable title to the enforcement of a demand but also exemptions from new obligations created after the right has become vested. Rights are considered vested when the right to enjoyment is a present interest, absolute, unconditional, and perfect or fixed and irrefutable. (Alcantara v. Ermita, En Banc, G.R. No. 168056, 168207, 168461, etc., 01 September 2005)

Paterno v. Paterno (January 2020)
The petitioner and the respondent were married on December 27, 1987. After living together for about a decade, the petitioner left the family abode in June 1998. On June 9, 2000, petitioner filed a petition before the RTC seeking the declaration of nullity of his marriage to the respondent on the ground of the latter’s psychological incapacity. This was granted by Branch 144 of RTC Makati (Branch 144) in a Decision dated March 11, 2005, where both parties were adjudged to be psychologically incapacitated to fulfill their marital obligations to each other. The March 11, 2005 Decision had attained finality. x x x
Stripped of verbiage, the pivotal issues in this case are the ownership of the Ayala Alabang house and the Rockwell condominium and how these properties should be partitioned between the parties; and the propriety of the increase in the amount of support granted to the respondent.
There is no quarrel that the marriage of the petitioner and the respondent had long been declared an absolute nullity by reason of their psychological incapacity to perform their marital obligations to each other. The property relations of parties to a void marriage is governed either by Article 147 or 148 of the Family Code. Since the petitioner and the respondent suffer no legal impediment and exclusively lived with each other under a void marriage, their property relation is one of co-ownership under Article 147 of the Family Code. The said provision finds application in this case even if the parties were married before the Family Code took effect by express provision of the Family Code on its retroactive effect for as long as it does not prejudice or impair vested or acquired rights in accordance with the Civil Code or other laws. Here, no vested rights will be impaired in the application of the said provision given that Article 147 of the Family Code is actually just a remake of Article 144 of the 1950 Civil Code.
Quiao v. Quiao (July 2012)
Petitioner claims that his vested rights have been impaired, arguing: “As earlier adverted to, the petitioner acquired vested rights over half of the conjugal properties, the same being owned in common by the spouses. If the provisions of the Family Code are to be given retroactive application to the point of authorizing the forfeiture of the petitioner’s share in the net remainder of the conjugal partnership properties, the same impairs his rights acquired prior to the effectivity of the Family Code.” In other words, the petitioner is saying that since the property relations between the spouses is governed by the regime of Conjugal Partnership of Gains under the Civil Code, the petitioner acquired vested rights over half of the properties of the Conjugal Partnership of Gains, pursuant to Article 143 of the Civil Code, which provides: “All property of the conjugal partnership of gains is owned in common by the husband and wife.” Thus, since he is one of the owners of the properties covered by the conjugal partnership of gains, he has a vested right over half of the said properties, even after the promulgation of the Family Code; and he insisted that no provision under the Family Code may deprive him of this vested right by virtue of Article 256 of the Family Code which prohibits retroactive application of the Family Code when it will prejudice a person’s vested right.
In the present case, the petitioner was accorded his right to due process. First, he was well-aware that the respondent prayed in her complaint that all of the conjugal properties be awarded to her. In fact, in his Answer, the petitioner prayed that the trial court divide the community assets between the petitioner and the respondent as circumstances and evidence warrant after the accounting and inventory of all the community properties of the parties. Second, when the Decision dated October 10, 2005 was promulgated, the petitioner never questioned the trial court’s ruling forfeiting what the trial court termed as “net profits,” pursuant to Article 129(7) of the Family Code. Thus, the petitioner cannot claim being deprived of his right to due process.
Furthermore, we take note that the alleged deprivation of the petitioner’s “vested right” is one founded, not only in the provisions of the Family Code, but in Article 176 of the Civil Code. This provision is like Articles 63 and 129 of the Family Code on the forfeiture of the guilty spouse’s share in the conjugal partnership profits.
Finally, as earlier discussed, the trial court has already decided in its Decision dated October 10, 2005 that the applicable law in this case is Article 129(7) of the Family Code. The petitioner did not file a motion for reconsideration nor a notice of appeal. Thus, the petitioner is now precluded from questioning the trial court’s decision since it has become final and executory. The doctrine of immutability and unalterability of a final judgment prevents us from disturbing the Decision dated October 10, 2005 because final and executory decisions can no longer be reviewed nor reversed by this Court.
Pana v. Juanite (December 2012)
Efren claims that his marriage with Melecia falls under the regime of conjugal partnership of gains, given that they were married prior to the enactment of the Family Code and that they did not execute any prenuptial agreement. Although the heirs of the deceased victims do not dispute that it was the Civil Code, not the Family Code, which governed the marriage, they insist that it was the system of absolute community of property that applied to Efren and Melecia. x x x
Admittedly, the spouses were married before the effectivity of the Family Code. But that fact does not prevent the application of [A]rt. 94, last paragraph, of the Family Code because their property regime is precisely governed by the law on absolute community. x x x
None of the spouses is dead. Therefore, no vested rights have been acquired by each over the properties of the community. Hence, the liabilities imposed on the accused-spouse may properly be charged against the community as heretofore discussed. x x x x
[The RTC and the CA applied the retroactive provision of the Family Code.]
Both the RTC and the CA are in error on this point. While it is true that the personal stakes of each spouse in their conjugal assets are inchoate or unclear prior to the liquidation of the conjugal partnership of gains and, therefore, none of them can be said to have acquired vested rights in specific assets, it is evident that Article 256 of the Family Code does not intend to reach back and automatically convert into absolute community of property relation all conjugal partnerships of gains that existed before 1988 excepting only those with prenuptial agreements.
The Family Code itself provides in Article 76 that marriage settlements cannot be modified except prior to marriage.
Clearly, therefore, the conjugal partnership of gains that governed the marriage between Efren and Melecia who were married prior to 1988 cannot be modified except before the celebration of that marriage.

Disclaimer: All information is for educational and general information only. These should not be taken as professional legal advice or opinion. Please consult a competent lawyer to address your specific concerns. Any statements or opinions of the author are solely his own and do not reflect that of any organization he may be connected.

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