The donation between common-law partners is void

Dear PAO,

My only sister bought a house and land after our parents died, and the property was registered in her name. Later, she met Jose, and they eventually lived together in the house and the land. Unfortunately, my sister passed away. Jose now wants to rent the property to a stranger, but I protested because he doesn’t own it. However, he claimed that my sister had given him the house and land when they lived together. Who has a better right to the house and the land?


Dear Harton,

The provision of the law that applies to your sister’s situation is Section 87 of the Philippine Family Code which states that:

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“Any donation or concession of free benefit, direct or indirect, between the spouses during the marriage is null, with the exception of moderate liberalities that the spouses may make on the occasion of family rejoicings. The ban also applies to people living together. as husband and wife without a valid marriage.”

The donation alleged by your deceased sister to her partner during their cohabitation is void. While Article 87 of the Family Code of the Philippines talks about prohibited gifts between spouses, the same article also applies to people living together as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage. This finds support in the statement of the Supreme Court through Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa in Perez Jr. v. Perez-Senerpida, GR 233365, March 24, 2021, where it held that:

“Matabuena equalized de facto unions between a man and a woman, on the one hand, and validly married spouses, on the other, as to the nullity of gifts made between the parties. This case pronounces the same as the prohibition imposed on a spouse from giving any property of the absolute community or of the conjugal society without the consent of the other spouse also applies to de facto relations or cohabitations of a man and a woman without a valid marriage or under a void marriage.

By applying the aforementioned decision to your situation, the prohibited donation between legally married persons clearly applies to a de facto union like that of your sister and her spouse José. Thus, the alleged gift made by your sister to her partner during their cohabitation is void.

It is also important to point out that the house and the land are not jointly owned by José and your sister because it has been established that the latter bought it before their cohabitation, which makes her the sole owner of the property. Thus, when your sister dies, ownership of her property passes to her heirs, which does not include a de facto spouse in the absence of a last will designating the latter as heir. If she had no children, a collateral relative like you would inherit the property according to Section 1003 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines which states that:

“If there are no descendants, ascendants, illegitimate children or surviving spouse, the collaterals succeed to the entire estate of the deceased in accordance with the following articles.”

We hope we were able to answer your questions. Remember that this advice is based solely on the facts you have reported and our assessment of them. Our opinion may change when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily chronicle of the public ministry. Questions for Chef Acosta can be sent to [email protected]

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