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Van Dorn vs J. Romillo Jr. (Richard Upton, private respondent) 139 SCRA 139, G.R. No.



Alice Reyes Van Dorn is a citizen of the Philippines who married Richard Upton, a citizen of the United
States in Hongkong. After 10 years of marriage and two children, they got divorced in Nevada, United States
of America, where the petitioner subsequently married Theodore Van Dorn. One year after, Richard Upton
filed a civil case with the Regional Trial Court Branch 115 in Pasay City praying to for the accounting of the
business, the Galleon Shop, and to be given the right to manage the business, on the ground that the business
is conjugal property. He further contends that the divorce is not valid and binding in the Philippines, as it is
contrary to local law and public policy, therefore he has legal standing to claim said property. On her part, the
petitioner filed for dismissal of the civil case contending that the private respondent is estopped from laying
claim on the alleged conjugal property because in the divorce proceedings, by which the alien spouse is
bound, the private respondent agreed that they had no community property. The RTC denied the motion to
dismiss on the ground that the property is located in the Philippines so the divorce decree has no bearing in
the case. Hence this petition for certiorari and prohibition.

Issue: Whether or not the alien spouse, divorced from the Filipina spouse, has legal standing on the alleged
conjugal assets, in the Philippines?


No. Generally, divorce is not recognized in the Philippines as it is against morals, good customs and public
policy. However, aliens may obtain divorce abroad, which the Philippines may recognize, provided they are
valid according to their national law. In this case, the divorce in Nevada, USA is valid, thus, in the spirit of
comity, it is recognized as also valid in the Philippines. Hence, the private respondent, as he is bound by the
decision of his own coutry's Court, which validly exercised jurisdiction over him, and whose decision he does
not repudiate, he has no legal standing in the Philippine court as husband of the petitioner as the divorce
legally dissolved their marriage. He is further estopped by his own representation before the foreign Court in
the divorce proceedings, from asserting his right over the alleged conjugal property. To maintain the petitioner
to still be legally obligated to the divorced husband is a discrimination against her in her own country. Hence,
it is only just that the petition be granted. The civil case against petitioner with the RTC was dismissed.

Note: This case was decided before August 3, 1988 when the Family Code took effect. It became the basis for
the codification of Article 26 (2) of the Family Code.


Sy Kiat, a Chinese national, died in Calooocan City where he was then residing leaving behind real and
personal properties here in the Philippines worth P300,000.00 more or less. He has a marriage with Asuncion
Gillego, but does not have a marriage license. They are common-law husband and wife, as they’ve been
together for the past 25 years until his death.Private respondents (Aida Sy-Gonzales et al.,) filed a petition for
the grant of letters or administration alleging that they were the children of the deceased with Asuncion
Gillego. Petition was opposed by herein petitioners (Yao Kee et al.,) alleging that they were the legitimate
family.The probate court found that Sy Kiat has a marriage with Yao Kee back in China, in accordance to
Chinese custom. Yao Kee testifies the ff: There is no solemnizing officer as decided by tradition and she
doubts that she could produce a marriage certificate or contract since “it has been many years”, and that the
Chinese government does not issue such documents. Furthermore, this allegation is bolstered by a written
agreement between the two, wherein it details provisions for support and inheritance with regards to their
children. Yao Kee camp: a) Yao Kee is the legitimate wife, b) we are the legitimate children of Sy Kiat and
c) we nominate our eldest sibling to be administratix of Sy Kiat’s properties. Asuncion Gillego camp: a) We
are the legitimate children of Sy Kiat, b) to the best of our knowledge Sy Kiat died intestate (he did not leave
a will), c) we do not recognize Sy Kiat’s marriage to Yao Kee, and d) we nominate our eldest sibling to be
administratix of Sy Kiat’s properties. The lower court likewise ruled that respondents are the acknowledged
illegitimate offspring of Sy Kiat with Asuncion Gillego. RTC: Yao Kee camp wins and Gillego camp is
recognized as illegitimate children. On appeal, the lower court’s decision was set aside declaring petitioners
as the acknowledge natural children of Sy Kiat and Asuncion Gillego. CA: a) Gillego camp are acknowledged
natural children, b) Yao Kee camp are also acknowledged natural children and c) administration is vested on
Yao Kee camp. ISSUE: Was the fact of marriage of Sy Kiat and Yao Kee in China proven as a custom? WoN
the Yao Kee marriage to Sy Kiat is recognized in Philippine jurisdiction? HELD: Court of Appeals is
affirmed. Custom is defined as “a rule of conduct formed by repetition of acts, uniformly observed
(practiced) as a social rule, legally binding and obligatory.” The law requires that “a custom must be proved
as a fact, according to the rules of evidence.” [Article 12, Civil Code] On this score the Court had occasion to
state that “ a local custom as a source of right cannot be considered by a court of justice unless such custom is
properly established by competent evidence like any other fact. The same evidence, if not one of a higher
degree, should be required of a foreign custom.Construing this provision of law the Court has held that to
establish a valid foreign marriage two things must be proven, namely 1) The existence of the foreign law as a
question of fact; and 2) The alleged foreign marriage by convincing evidence.

In the case at bar petitioners did not present any competent evidence relative to the law and custom of China
on marriage. The testimonies of Yao and Gan Ching (brother) cannot be considered as proof of China’s law or
custom on marriage not only because they are self serving evidence, but more importantly, there is no
showing that they are competent to testify on the subject matter. For failure to prove the foreign law or
custom, and consequently, the validity of the marriage in accordance with said law or custom, the marriage
between Yao Kee and Sy Kiat cannot be recognized in this jurisdiction. However, as petitioners failed to
establish the marriage of Yao Kee with Sy Kiat according to the laws of China, they cannot be accorded the
status of legitimate children but only that of acknowledged natural children. Petitioners are natural children; it
appearing that at the time of their conception Yao Kee and Sy Kiat were not disqualified by any impediment
to marry one another. [See Art. 269, Civil Code] And they are acknowledged children of the deceased because
of Sy Kiat’s recognition of Sze Sook Wah and its extension to Sze Lai Cho and Sy Chun Yen who are her
sisters of the full blood. Private respondents on the other hand are also the deceased’s acknowledged natural
children with Asuncion Gillego ,a Filipina with whom he lived for 25 years without the benefit of marriage.
They have in their favor their father’s acknowledgment, evidence by a compromise agreement entered into by
and between their parents and approved by the CFI wherein Sy Kiat not only acknowledged them as his
children by Asuncion Gillego but likewise made provisions for their support and future inheritance.