Make sure your fiancee is divorced before you marry him. The 2011 case of Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten explains why.
Robert and Christine were married in 1995 and later separated. In 1999, Robert met Nancy. He told her he was married but separated. In September 2003, Robert and Nancy obtained a marriage license. In the application for the license, the couple each wrote that they had “zero” prior marriages.
In November 2003, Robert filed for divorce from Christine. Later that year, the court sent Robert a notice warning him not to re-marry before his divorce was final. Nancy then forwarded the notice to Robert’s union so she could be added to his insurance. In 2007, Robert was killed in a work-related accident.
Nancy sued Robert’s employer for wrongful death. The employer argued that Nancy could not sue because she never married Robert and was not even a “putative spouse” – i.e., she could not have reasonably believed her marriage was valid. Nancy responded that she was a putative spouse because she honestly believed her marriage was valid. As evidence, she claimed she did not read the marriage license closely and did not read the notice that he received and that she forwarded to his union. The trial court agreed with Robert’s employer. Nancy appealed.
The Court of Appeal sided with Nancy and explained that she could still be a putative spouse if she honestly believed her marriage was valid. The fact that her belief was unreasonable or even ludicrous was beside the point. The trial court should have let Nancy testify before a jury so it could decide whether or not she was lying.
If you (honestly) believe you’re a putative spouse, contact Jarvis, Krieger & Sullivan today for a free, no-obligation consultation.