Secret Marriage

Posted by Admin | Posted in Civil Law, Family Law | Posted on 10-10-2010

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A legally non-existent phrase but ordinarily used to refer to a civil marriage celebrated without the knowledge of the relatives and/or friends of either or both of the contracting parties. (Republic vs. Court of Appeals, 236 SCRA 262)

In what people call a “secret marriage”, only the bride and groom and some very close friends or relatives are present. Kept secret from the parents, there are no costly preparations and definitely no wedding invitations to give out. There is no walk-down-the-aisle but at least there is that classic exchange of vows and the you-may-now-kiss-the-bride portion which seals the marital agreement.

Legally speaking, there is no such thing as a secret marriage because there is that requirement of publication when couples apply for a marriage license. Before issuing the license, the local civil registrar is required by law to publish a Notice containing the full names, residences and other information about the applicants. This Notice will be posted for ten consecutive days on a bulletin board outside the office of the civil registrar. This bulletin board must be located in a conspicuous place within the building and accessible to the public. The Notice should request all persons who know of any legal impediment to the marriage to report such fact to the civil registrar.

The marriage may be a secret only because the parents of either of the couple are not aware of it. But since couples should apply for a marriage license only in their place of residence, it is very likely that the relatives and the parents will discover the planned marriage if both of them reside in the same place, especially in small towns where news and gossips spread faster than the speed of light. In this sense, “secret” marriages seem to be more appealing to couples who do not reside in the same city or municipality. The couple can choose either the man’s residence or that of the woman depending on which side of the family is opposing or would likely to oppose the marriage.

But the problem is when they cannot choose either the man’s or woman’s residence. If they get a license from a place where neither of them resides, they could be in real trouble. If that is the case, the license is defective because it failed to comply with Article 9 of the Family Code

A marriage license shall be issued by the local civil registrar of the city or municipality where either of the contracting party habitually resides, except in marriages where no license is required… (Article 9)

A valid marriage license is a formal requisite of a valid marriage and a defect in a formal requisite makes the marriage voidable or annullable (Articles 3 and 4, Family Code). That marriage may be valid, but it can be annulled.

My advice to couples, young and old, who plan to get married, “secretly” or not: Do not be hasty. Read first your Family Code. The requirements there are clear and simple. If you cannot understand, you can always ask the civil registrar or the judge. If you really want your marriage to last, be watchful of the circumstances that could make it void or voidable.

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