Question: Hi! I am a Filipina working as a live-in caregiver in Canada. I’ve been a widow since 1994, but just before I came here in 2006, I married a man who had been separated from his wife for 25 years. When we got married, he put ‘single’ in our marriage license application, even if his marriage to his first wife has not been legally dissolved. My question – is our marriage legal? I have parted ways with this man about a year ago, but with no legalities. If our marriage was illegal but registered in the census, how should I correct the inconsistency? I want our separation to be clean and legal. By the way, when I entered Canada, I put ‘widow’ in my application. What should I do?
Answer: Based on your narrative, your second marriage is illegal under Philippine law. Even if 25 years has passed since this man separated from his first wife, they are still considered married. Therefore, any move to legalize your separation from him will have no significance because under the law, you are not even married to each other, even if that marriage is registered with the National Census and Statistics Office or NSO.
In fact, being registered with the census or NSO or civil registrar does not automatically mean a marriage is legal. This is all just part of the process of providing order in documenting various events of interest to the government, such as marriages. A marriage is legal only if it satisfies all conditions of the law, and it is only the court that can dissolve a legal marriage.
If you really want to straighten this out, especially if you plan to remarry, file for a Judicial Declaration of nullity of prior marriage (Article 39 of Family Code). You have to be in the Philippines to do this though as your physical presence will be required by the court.