Twice as Much Doesn't Always Make It Better

Twice as Much Doesn't Always Make It Better

Patricia married Richard in November of 1973. In 1987, she started dating Henry causing her separation from Richard. While dating Henry, she met Jeffrey. Jeffrey left his wife to date Patricia while Patricia was still dating Henry. Patricia tried to separate from Henry, but he convinced her to drive to Reno, Nevada and get married. Patricia was still married to Richard at the time she married Henry. Ten days after marrying Henry, Patricia ended her relationship with Henry, and returned to Jeffrey. At the time, Jeffrey was a law student and Patricia was a legal secretary. Patricia, Richard, Henry, Debra, and Jeffrey, all lived in Sacramento, California. Patricia told Jeffrey about her marriage to Henry, but she didn't think it was legal, because she was still married to Richard when she married Henry. She also told Jeffrey that she had contacted an attorney in Nevada. That attorney told her that since the marriage to Henry wasn't legal, she did not need an annulment, but that she should double-check with another attorney. (In other words, if she DID need an annulment from her marriage to Henry, any marriage after her marriage to Henry would not be legal.) Shortly thereafter, she obtained her divorce from Richard and Jeffrey obtained his divorce from Debra. Then Jeffrey and Patricia married.

In 2008, Jeffrey filed from divorce from Patricia, and later changed his request from dissolution of their marriage to an annulment. If annulment were granted, the law and the courts would treat both Patricia and Jeffrey as if they were never married to each other. If so, there would be no community property to divide, or spousal support available to either party. Jeffrey argued that although Patricia was divorced from Richard when he married her, since she did not get an annulment from Henry, she was married to him when she married Jeffrey. That made Patricia a bigamist. In California, a person can only be married to one other person at a time. If someone marries while married to someone else, only the first marriage is legal. The law considers the other marriage as never taking place.

The trial court found for Jeffrey. Based on Nevada law, Patricia appeared to be still married to Henry when she married Jeffrey, meaning her marriage to Jeffrey did not exist. Patricia appealed.

The appellate court reversed stating the trial court misinterpreted Nevada law, and further, should have applied California law. Nevada law does not require an annulment to end a bigamous marriage. Just like California, if someone marries someone while married to someone else, that subsequent marriage doesn't exist. Here, Patricia was still married to Richard when she attempted to marry Henry in Nevada. Since her marriage to Henry didn't exist, and she didn't marry Jeffrey until after she had divorced Richard and Jeffrey had divorced Debra, the marriage of Jeffrey and Patricia was valid.

Annulments can be very difficult to obtain in California, and should only be attempted by a competent family law attorney.

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