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PRESUMPTIVE DEATH

By: Atty. Karissa Faye Tolentino-Maxino

What is the principle of presumptive death?


This principle is entrenched in Article 41 of the Civil Code which provides that “A
marriage contracted by any person during subsistence of a previous marriage shall be null and
void, unless before the celebration of the subsequent marriage, the prior spouse had been absent
for 4 consecutive years and the spouse present has a well-founded belief that the absent spouse
was already dead. Also, for the purpose of contracting a subsequent marriage, the spouse, in
order to remarry, must institute a summary proceeding for the declaration of presumptive death
of the absentee.

What is meant by “well-founded” belief?


The belief should be one that was the result of diligent and reasonable efforts 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 necessitates exertion of active effort, not a
passive one. (Philippines vs. Sarenogon, G.R. No. 199194, February 10, 2016)
The premise is that Article 41 of the Family Code places upon the present spouse the
burden of complying with the 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, whether the latter is still alive
or is already dead.”

Is the 4-year absence an absolute rule?


No. The 4-year period, however, is reduced to 2 years in the following circumstances: (1)
A person on board a vessel lost during a sea voyage, or an aeroplane which is missing, who has
not been heard of for [two] years since the loss of the vessel or aeroplane; (2) A person in the
armed forces who has taken part in a war, and has been missing for 2 years and (3) A person who
has been in danger of death under other circumstances and his existence has not been known for
2 years.

What is the importance of such declaration?


The failure to seek a judicial declaration of presumptive death opens a party who
contracts a second marriage to a charge of bigamy

What happens if the presumably “dead” spouse re-appears?


The second marriage is voided by the appearance of the “absentee” spouse pursuant to
Art. 42, NCC which provides that “the subsequent marriage referred to in the preceding Article
shall be automatically terminated by the recording of the affidavit of reappearance of the absent
spouse, unless there is a judgment annulling the previous marriage or declaring it void ab initio.”