Dear Pay Louie,
Can you give me some advice regarding my problem with my properties?
I have been living with a woman named Lara for about three years now. We lived together and treated each other as husband and wife under one roof when I came back abroad. Lara was my childhood sweetheart, but unfortunately, I have a subsisting marriage with Michelle, also a Filipina, whom I left behind in Canada. I did not tell Lara that I am already married, however, I am currently planning to file for an annulment.
Things got very complicated when Michelle learned of my affair with Lara and threatened to file criminal complaints against me and Lara. Lara, also upon learning of my marriage and the threat, was so understandably devastated and I could not stop her when she decided to close her doors on me and shut our communications a couple of months ago.
During our cohabitation, I franchised a Seven-Eleven store with which I made Lara personally manage, bought a condominium unit in Makati that I cannot already come home to right now, and purchased a 2018 model Ford Expedition for our common use – all sourced from my savings.
Yesterday, I texted Lara admitting to my fault with a note that if she cannot live with the situation anymore, at least she could be kind enough to give me back all my properties in her possession because I am currently broke, not to mention being broken and homeless.
She promptly texted back, “Just talk to my lawyer”.
Is Lara entitled to my properties? Or can she be considered a co-owner of said properties in question since we acquired those while we were living together?
It appears from your narration of facts that you have a legally subsisting marriage. You are yet to file for annulment of your marriage and the outcome of which rests upon the sound discretion of the proper court that has jurisdiction over the action. Pending such, you are considered very much married to Michelle.
On the other hand, your mere cohabitation with Lara does not give rise to a presumption that you are co-owners of the properties that you acquired during the period of your cohabitation. In fact, if the same properties were purchased with your own money, there is a strong presumption that said properties rightfully belong to your common property with Michelle, your legal wife, provided that you have not settled for a different property regime before you entered into marriage.
For Lara to be considered a co-owner or for her to successfully back any claim or interest over the subject properties, she has to show proof of her actual contributions for their acquisition. Her contributions must be conclusively proven.
Article 148 of the Family Code provides, thus:
“In cases of cohabitation not falling under the preceding Article, only the properties acquired by both of the parties through their actual joint contribution of money, property, or industry shall be owned by them in common in proportion to their respective contributions. In the absence of proof to the contrary, their contributions and corresponding shares are presumed to be equal. X x x”
In the case of Tumlos v. Fernandez (G.R. No. 137650, 12 April 2000), the Supreme Court, through Justice Panganiban, had the occasion to rule that: Under Article 148 of the Family Code, a man and a woman who are not legally capacitated to marry each other, but who nonetheless live together conjugally, may be deemed co-owners of a property acquired during the cohabitation only upon proof that each made an actual contribution to its acquisition. Hence, mere cohabitation without proof of contribution will not result in a co-ownership.
Citing the case of Agapay v. Palang (G.R. No. 116668, 28 July 1997, 276 SCRA 341), the Court revisited its ruling involving a similarly-placed scenario, viz:
Under Article 148, only the properties acquired by both of the parties through their actual joint contribution of money, property or industry shall be owned by them in common in proportion to their respective contributions. It must be stressed that the actual contribution is required by this provision, in contrast to Article 147 which states that efforts in the care and maintenance of the family and household, are regarded as contributions to the acquisition of common property by one who has no salary or income or work or industry. If the actual contribution of the party is not proved, there will be no co-ownership and no presumption of equal share.
Going back to your query, it is my opinion that Lara is not entitled to nor a co-owner of the seven eleven franchise, the Makati condominium and the 2018 Ford Expedition which you acquired with your own money, applying Article 147 of the Family Code to the facts that you presented.
I hope that I was able to enlighten you on your queries. This advice is based solely on the facts you have presented and my appreciation of the same. This may vary when other facts are presented or elaborated.