The Philippines is the only nation that doesn’t allow divorce. Whatever the merits or criticisms of that may be, many people every year desire to end their marriage. This is possible, but the process isn’t easy. Many people go looking for a quick fix and end up being scammed. If you’re in a relationship with a woman who has been married previously, make extra sure that her annulment papers are in order, or you may find yourself having to make a difficult decision about whether to end the relationship or prepare for a long wait.
The annulment laws in the Philippines follow the canon law of the Catholic Church. It can be had in cases of fraud, a forced marriage, marriage between close relatives, or proof one person did not have the capacity to enter into a marriage. For the last one, psychological problems are the most common proof of incapacity. Inability to care for a spouse/family, to be monogamous, or otherwise to be in a stable relationship can used as proof of psychological incapacity. If the court accepts that either person has psychological problems, the marriage can be annulled. Psychological incapacity has become the justification for ending a marriage, just has “irreconcilable differences” has in the US. While that seems very convoluted, around 94% of annulment cases are approved. It’s not easy, but the process functions as a de facto divorce procedure.
“Fixers” are a common site around government offices in the Philippines. These are people with connections in government offices who claim they can get legal documents or speed up processes more cheaply and easily. In some cases they can, but at other times, you’ll end up with forged documents. Even if you get a real document from the relevant government office, there may still be something wrong. That is often the case with annulment fraud. Corrupt government workers may issue the right documents with the right stamps, but it won’t have been filed properly. Sometimes, the fixer may be (or claim to be) a lawyer who will charge a large sum for a quick and assured annulment. However, the documents they provide may turn out to be fraudulent.
In the Philippines, a person filing for annulment must be present to make the request. If someone assures the applicant they can take care of everything without bothering with a court case, this is a sure sign of fraud. The documents provided will be an Advisory of Marriage (like a CENOMAR for someone who is or has been married) and an annotated marriage certificate. The marriage certificate will have a notice attached to it stating that an annulment has taken place. It will also give the civil court case number and the name of the issuing judge. If no court case took place, this will be either blank or a fake number will be provided. Either way, the legitimacy of the annulment can easily be checked at the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), or simply by applying for another copy of the documents.
If you plan to help a Filipina pay for her annulment so you can marry her, be sure she isn’t falling victim to an annulment scam. If she does, you’re going to end up paying again for a real annulment. If you are going to get married in the Philippines or apply for a fiance visa, then have her verify her papers with the PSA well in advance. If you’re applying for a visa, your country’s embassy will spot any sign of a fraudulent document. If you plan to get married in the Philippines, you may have the wedding all paid for, but when you apply for the marriage license you discover your fiance’s previous marriage is still valid. Either way, your future plans could be ruined for years.
A related scam is one Filipinos call “hugot”, or “pulling out”. It means to have a marriage certificate pulled out of the civil registry files as though it never existed. Such a thing may have been possible at one time, but even marriages performed in the most rural locations will have a digital record in the PSA. Undeterred, some fixers claim that they can have all traces of the marriage deleted. They say they have a contact inside the PSA who can delete the record from the database. However, the PSA database contains vital government information, and only a very small number of people with a high-security clearance gain access. Anyone paying for “hugot” can expect to find themselves still married when they apply for a CENOMAR.
Annulment is a long-term, difficult, and expensive process, as well as a big industry for both legitamate lawyers and fraudulant fixers. Desperate people will turn to friends and family for help, but may get a bad reference. They may even end up paying more for a fake annulment than a real one. Honest (as it were) civil lawyers may charge 100,000-200,000 pesos for annulment services, and fixers charge similar prices. But the fixers’ promise it to get it done quickly and with minimal involvement from the client. But trusting in a quick fix is likely to backfire and leave one in a worse position. If you’re getting married to a Filipina who got an annulment, have her verify everything, not matter how much she trusted her lawyer. And if you’re supporting her through an annulment, have her verify the legitimacy of the lawyer. Otherwise, your marriage to her may never begin.