Scorned Lover’s Delight: The Putative Spouse Exception

What happens when one person gets entangled, tricked, or otherwise hoodwinked into marriage with their “spouse,” and later learns the marriage itself was never officially legal? The marriage certificate didn’t get filed. You learn that your spouse actually is married to someone else, ruining your happily ever after. Or you discover that your family tree is really more of a circle than branches? Is that unfortunate spouse given no protection despite being duped into an unfortunate relationship? Does the law say “Your fault for falling in love with someone you shouldn’t have”? Generally, yes, the law says scorned lovers are out of luck . . . unless an exception applies.

There is a legal exception to void or voidable marriages called the putative spouse exception. In this instance the innocent spouse is entitled to the protections of marriage, such as attorney’s fees, property division, and spousal support, despite not truly being legally married to an individual.

Who qualifies for the putative spouse exception?

The “putative spouse status” is permitted ONLY IF the party believed in good faith the marriage was valid. In fact, putative status is not limited to just a marriage that is void or voidable. A party with the “good faith” belief may be a putative spouse where any legal technicality renders the marriage invalid.

What is considered “good faith”?

A person’s “good faith belief” in the validity of the marriage is measured by a subjective standard as opposed to an objective standard. Good faith must be judged on a case-by-case basis in light of all the relevant facts. The judge looks at the efforts made to create a valid marriage. The alleged putative spouse’s background and experience, and the circumstances surrounding the marriage are taken into account. This can include any evidence of the marriage’s invalidity as it relates to the knowledge of the marriage’s status as to the spouse claiming putative status.

A putative spouse need only have a good faith belief their marriage was valid at the time of the marriage. The fact they later learn the marriage is invalid does not preclude a finding of putative spouse status. The longer a person delays once they find out the marriage is not valid may weigh against their claim of being a putative spouse as they acknowledged the situation yet continued to participate in the relationship without taking any steps to rectify the situation.

If you think your marriage is not a recognized California marriage, you may be entitled to the same protections as if you were legally married. Call us at (833) 931-1615 if you think putative spouse may be applicable to your case. Click here to schedule an initial consultation!

*DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice but should be construed for general informational purposes only.

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