A California Appellate Court has ruled that Trial Court correctly determined that Mother and Father had putative marriage because Mother did not know that Father was already married when she married him and she had good-faith belief in validity of their marriage for over 30 years. Therefore, property that Mother acquired during the parties’ marriage was quasi-marital property and is subject to division between the parties as community property.
In the case of In re Marriage of Tejeda, Mother and Father were married in Las Vegas in 1973. They later had five children. However, unbeknownst to Mother, on their wedding day, Husband was still married to another woman. Father filed for divorce from his first Wife in 1975, and Trial Court entered their divorce judgment in 1976. Mother and Father held a marriage ceremony in Mexico in 1988, but that marriage was not solemnized by civil formalities. Meanwhile, Mother believed that their Las Vegas marriage was valid.
In 1994,Mother began acquiring real property in her name alone or with other relatives. None of those properties were in joint names of Mother and Father.
In March of 2006, Father filed for divorce from Mother. Mother’s response also sought divorce, but was later amended to seek an annulment. In October of 2007, after proceedings were transferred to Santa Cruz County, Mother filed another amended response, seeking annulment of her marriage to Father and confirmation of all properties as her separate property.
In a brief prepared for hearing on validity of his marriage, Father argued that he and Mother were putative spouses because he had good-faith belief that they were validly married. Mother’s brief asserted that Father could not prove good-faith belief, that she was not seeking putative-spouse status, and that marriage was bigamous and void.
At a hearing in January of 2008, Mother testified that prior to their Las Vegas marriage, Father told her that he was divorced. She also testified that she believed in the validity of their marriage until she learned the truth in 2006. Trial Court made an oral finding that Father’s prior marriage made his marriage to Mother void or voidable, but that Mother’s belief in its validity had been reaffirmed "by her actions over some period of time," which included filing joint tax returns, claiming married status for immigration purposes, using Father’s name, and receiving medical insurance and social security benefits under Father’s name. Trial Court concluded that Mother and Father were putative spouses under California Family Code Section 2251 [where either party has good-faith belief in validity of void or voidable marriage, parties are putative spouses; property that would have been community property is quasi-marital], and that property acquired during their putative marriage was subject to division as community property, subject to tracing or other characterization issues.
In June 2008, Trial Court entered a judgment of nullity, declaring that Mother and Father were putative spouses, and that their property was quasi-marital. Mother appealed, but California Court of Appeals has affirmed the Trial Court’s rulings. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) after a Trial Court finds that the parties’ marriage is invalid and that either party had good-faith belief in its validity, it must declare the party who has that belief to be putative spouse; (2) where one party is a putative spouse, an otherwise invalid marriage is a putative marriage; (3) California Family Code Section 2251 applies when only one party is a putative spouse (not both); and (4) upon a finding of putative spouse, Trial Court must divide all quasi-marital property as if it were community property. Therefore, the Appellate Court has ruled that Trial Court did not err by finding that Mother was a putative spouse or that property she acquired during her putative marriage to Father was quasi-marital property subject to division between Mother and Father as community property.