REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES v. MARIA FE ESPINOSA CANTOR, G.R. No. 184621, December 10, 2013

Civil law; Article 41 of the Family Code requires that the present spouse has a well-founded belief that the prior spouse was already dead. Mere absence of the spouse (even for such period required by the law), lack of any news that such absentee is still alive, failure to communicate or general presumption of absence under the Civil Code would not suffice. This conclusion proceeds from the premise that Article 41 of the Family Code places upon the present spouse the burden of proving the additional and more stringent requirement of “well-founded belief” which can only be discharged upon a showing of proper and honest-to-goodness inquiries and efforts to ascertain not only the absent spouse’s whereabouts but, more importantly, that the absent spouse is still alive or is already dead.

The law did not define what is meant by “well-founded belief.” It depends upon the circumstances of each particular case. Its determination, so to speak, remains on a case-to-case basis. To be able to comply with this requirement, the present spouse must prove that his/her belief was the result of diligent and reasonable efforts and inquiries to locate the absent spouse and that based on these efforts and inquiries, he/she believes that under the circumstances, the absent spouse is already dead. It requires exertion of active effort (not a mere passive one).

Strict standard prescribed under Article 41 of the Family Code is for the present spouse’s benefit. The requisite judicial declaration of presumptive death of the absent spouse (and consequently, the application of a stringent standard for its issuance) is also for the present spouse’s benefit. It is intended to protect him/her from a criminal prosecution of bigamy under Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code which might come into play if he/she would prematurely remarry sans the court’s declaration.

Upon the issuance of the decision declaring his/her absent spouse presumptively dead, the present spouse’s good faith in contracting a second marriage is effectively established. The decision of the competent court constitutes sufficient proof of his/her good faith and his/her criminal intent in case of remarriage is effectively negated. Thus, for purposes of remarriage, it is necessary to strictly comply with the stringent standard and have the absent spouse judicially declared presumptively dead.

Full text here.