G.R. No. 142820. June 20, 2003 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title:
Wolfgang O. Roehr v. Maria Carmen D. Rodriguez and Hon. Judge Josefina Guevara-Salonga: A Case on the Jurisdiction of Philippine Courts over Foreign Divorce Decrees and Related Domestic Issues

### Facts:
This case originates from a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage filed by Maria Carmen D. Rodriguez against Wolfgang O. Roehr before the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) on August 28, 1996. Post the petition, Roehr filed a Motion to Dismiss, which was denied by the RTC in May and August 1997, prompting Roehr to elevate the case to the Court of Appeals through a Petition for Certiorari, which was subsequently denied in November 1998, remanding the case back to the RTC.

Meanwhile, Roehr obtained a Divorce Decree from the Court of First Instance of Hamburg-Blankenese, Germany, on December 16, 1997, which dissolved the marriage, awarded parental custody to Roehr, and addressed litigation expenses. Based on this decree, Roehr filed a Second Motion to Dismiss on May 20, 1999, arguing the RTC no longer had jurisdiction. On July 14, 1999, the RTC, recognizing the divorce under Article 26 of the Family Code of the Philippines, dismissed the case. However, following Rodriguez’s Motion for Partial Reconsideration concerning children’s custody and property settlement, the RTC issued an order on September 30, 1999, partially setting aside its previous dismissal.

Roehr then moved for reconsideration, which was denied by the RTC on March 31, 2000, leading to this petition.

### Issues:
1. Did the respondent judge commit grave abuse of discretion in partially modifying her July 14, 1999, order?
2. Did the respondent judge err in retaining jurisdiction over the case post-acknowledgment of a foreign divorce decree?

### Court’s Decision:
1. **Regarding the Modification of Prior Order**: The Supreme Court held that the judge could partially reconsider a case not yet final if motions are filed within the reglementary period. Reconsideration is permissible under Sections 3 and 7 of Rule 37 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, making the judge’s actions valid.

2. **On Jurisdiction after Foreign Divorce Decree**: The Court affirmed its previous rulings that a foreign divorce by an alien may be recognized in the Philippines provided it is valid according to the national law of the foreigner. The Court acknowledged the German divorce decree but noted the absence of opportunity for Rodriguez to contest the decree’s implications on custody within Philippine jurisdiction, thus supporting the trial court’s decision to hear the matter concerning the welfare of the children.

### Doctrine:
The Supreme Court reiterated that foreign divorce decrees may be recognized in the Philippines, impacting custody, care, and support of children; however, the legal effects of such decrees require determination by Philippine courts. Specifically, foreign judgments constitute prima facie evidence subject to repudiation based on grounds including want of jurisdiction and lack of notice to the party.

### Class Notes:
– **Foreign Divorce Recognition**: A foreign divorce decree obtained by an alien spouse may be recognized in the Philippines, subject to the decree’s validity under the foreign country’s national law.
– **Jurisdiction over Custody and Property Issues**: Even if a foreign divorce is recognized, the Philippine courts retain jurisdiction to resolve matters related to custody of children and property relations between the spouses.
– **Rule on Modification of Orders**: Philippine courts can modify or partially reconsider their decisions if a motion is filed within the allowed period, as per Sections 3 and 7, Rule 37 of the 1997 Civil Procedure Rules.
– **Legal Effect of Foreign Judgments**: Under Rule 39, Section 48 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, foreign judgments are considered prima facie evidence of the right between the parties, which can be overturned on specific grounds.

### Historical Background:
This case emphasizes the complexity of cross-jurisdictional legal matters, such as foreign divorce and its recognition in the Philippines, against the backdrop of the country’s conservative stance on divorce. The case further demonstrates how the Philippines reconciles its domestic laws with foreign decrees, especially concerning family law, which is deeply rooted in the country’s moral and social values.


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