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Amicus Curiae

The Marital Right to Privacy in Relation to the System of Absolute Community

Ma. Regine Joyce C. Agdon

August 29, 2017

More than just a recital of “I do’s” and promises of a lifetime, marriage is an assumption of legal obligations with far-reaching implications. Consistent with the high regard of Philippine culture to parental roles and responsibilities in values formation and character-building of individuals, no less than the 1987 Philippine Constitution considers marriage an “inviolable social institution” that the State must protect. Accordingly, laws are passed with the view of ensuring the stability and harmony of marital relations, which include, among others, proprietary rights.

Among the laws that have a crucial bearing on married life are the provisions of the Family Code on property relations. In our current legal framework, the system of absolute community governs the property relations of spouses, unless otherwise stipulated in the marriage settlement or otherwise provided by law. The Family Code provides the presumption that property acquired during the marriage belongs to both spouses, unless it is proved to be excluded therefrom.

Under the Family Code, the community property shall consist of all the property owned by the spouses at the time of marriage or acquired thereafter, except: (1) those excluded in the marriage settlements, i.e., those stipulated in pre-nuptial agreements as exclusive; (2) property acquired during the marriage by gratuitous title by either spouse and the fruits thereof, e.g., a parcel of land donated to the wife by her father and the rents generated therefrom; (3) property for personal and exclusive use of either spouse, except jewelry, e.g., a luxury car bought by the husband for his own use; and (4) property acquired before the marriage by either spouse who has legitimate descendants by a former marriage, and the fruits as well as the income, if any, thereof, e.g., the previous marriage of the wife was nullified on the ground of psychological incapacity and since the children of said marriage are considered legitimate, the commercial building owned by the wife and the lease generated therefrom will not be part of the absolute community of the subsequent marriage.

Simply put, under the system of absolute community, each spouse is considered an owner of the property regardless of who actually brought it to the marriage, save for those abovementioned exclusions. Further to this ownership of spouses, the New Civil Code provides the right to own includes the right to use and dispose the property. Considering that both spouses have simultaneous claims to the community properties, there is an apparent merger of their rights. The point of inquiry now is the degree of access and control they respectively exercise over these properties.

 Despite having this coequal right of ownership, one spouse is not entitled to freely enjoy or dispose the property without consideration of the other. The Family Code provides that the administration and enjoyment of the community property is joint. Nonetheless, with regard to disposition and encumbrance, one spouse must secure the authority of the court or the written consent of the other spouse. Otherwise, the disposition or encumbrance shall be void.

Assuming that the provisions of the Family Code and New Civil Code on enjoyment and disposition of community property are observed, can one spouse already immediately assert rights to the properties of the other notwithstanding the privacy options availed of by the latter? Suppose that one spouse has payroll and investment accounts, can the other compel the disclosure of personal identification numbers or password and demand equal access and control to those accounts? Can he/she claim and exercise his/her right as an owner by resorting to means that might compromise the privacy of the latter?

In this regard, the case of Zulueta v. Court of Appeals (the “Zulueta case”) may be instructive. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy of the spouse as against the other is preserved even after marriage. As elaborated by the Court, “the intimacies between husband and wife do not justify any one of them in breaking the drawers and cabinets of the other and in ransacking them for any telltale evidence of marital infidelity. A person, by contracting marriage, does not shed his/her integrity or his right to privacy as an individual and the constitutional protection is ever available to him or to her.”

The Zulueta case appears to be an exception to the doctrine laid down in People v. Marti, which provides that the liberties such as the right to privacy guaranteed in the Bill of Rights may be invoked only when there is governmental interference. In light of the Zulueta case, the right to privacy of spouses cannot be overemphasized. Despite the marital union, the individualities of the husband and the wife are recognized and respected. Their oneness does not preclude the observance of personal spaces. Going back to the issue of property relations, this case may then shed some light.

Given the existing set of legislation and jurisprudence, there remains the need to harmonize the constitutional right to privacy of spouses with the system of absolute community of property. After all, community and individuality, although polar opposites, can coexist.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.