We learned early on in law school that a Filipino woman can use either of three names after getting married. First, she can retain her maiden name. Second, she can use her first name and her husband’s last name. Finally, she can use her husband’s first name and surname, prefixed by the title “Mrs.” She is allowed this option by Article 370 of the Philippine Civil Code, which reads:
ART. 370. A married woman may use:
(1) Her maiden first name and surname and add her husband’s surname, or
(2) Her maiden first name and her husband’s surname, or
(3) Her husband’s full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as “Mrs.”
So, for example, if Maria Reyes marries Juan Crisostomo, the law gives her the option of using the name “Maria Reyes”, “Maria Crisostomo”, or “Mrs. Juan Crisostomo”.
Given this legal backdrop, one would think that there should be no problem if, after separating from her husband, Maria Crisostomo decides to drop her married surname and asks the Department of Foreign Affairs to issue her a new passport under her maiden name “Maria Reyes”. After all, the law gives her the option of using her maiden name, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately for Maria, in a case that reached all the way up to the Philippine Supreme Court, the Court ruled that she cannot force the DFA to issue her a new passport under her maiden name, unless she presents a court decree that her marriage to Juan has been annulled or declared void by the court, or that they have been legally separated by court decree.
In the very recent case of Remo vs. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, G.R. No. 169202, March 5, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court cited Republic Act No, 8239, otherwise known as the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, which limits the instances when a married Filipino woman may revert to the use of her maiden name in the following instances:
The woman has been legally separated;
Her marriage has been annulled or declared void by the court;
She has been widowed; or
Her foreigner husband obtains a foreign divorce against her.
Of course, the Supreme Court said, had Maria opted to use her maiden name in her passport at the very start, she would be allowed to do so pursuant to Article 370 of the Civil Code, Thus, after getting married to Juan Crisostomo, Maria could have asked the DFA to issue her a passport under her maiden name Maria Reyes. However, since she opted to use the married name “Maria Crisostomo”, she cannot now ask the DFA to just drop her married surname without a court order as required by RA 8239. Maria’s remedy, if she really wants to revert to her maiden name, is to go to court and get a decree of nullity, annulment, or legal separation.
This case applies only to a Filipino wife. If the woman is a U.S. citizen, the laws of the United States will naturally apply.
Atty. Rogelio Karagdag , Jr. is licensed to practice law in both California and the Philippines. He practices immigration law in San Diego and has continuously been a trial and appellate attorney in the Philippines since 1989. He travels between San Diego and Manila. His office address is located at 10717 Camino Ruiz, Suite 131, San Diego, CA 92126. He also has an office in the Philippines at 1240 Apacible Street, Paco, Manila, Philippines 1007, with telephone numbers (632)522-1199 and (632)526-0326. Please call (858)348-7475/(858)536-4292 or email him at email@example.com. He speaks Tagalog fluently. Articles written in this column are not legal advice but are hypotheticals intended as general, non-specific legal information. Readers must seek legal consultation before taking any legal steps.