A California Appellate Court has ruled that a litigant who seeks putative spouse status must show an objective good faith belief in validity of his or her marriage and has affirmed the Trial Court decision to deny Husband’s request to be designated as a putative spouse because he failed to show such belief. In the case of In re Marriage of Guo and Sun, Husband and Girlfriend met in North Korea in 1997 or 1998. After they became romantically involved, Husband and Girlfriend moved to Los Angeles. Sometime later, Husband told Girlfriend that he had a Wife in Italy.
In January 2001, Husband met with his Attorney to start divorce proceedings against Wife. On February 14, 2001, Husband and Girlfriend went to Las Vegas and got married. Girlfriend believed that Husband was free to marry her because he told her that his divorce had gone through. However, for reasons known only to them, Husband and Girlfriend stated on their marriage license that their marriage was Husband’s first.
On February 15, 2001, Attorney filed Husband’s petition to divorce Wife. Trial Court entered status-only divorce judgment ending that marriage on August 21, 2001.
On August 24, 2007, Girlfriend filed a divorce petition. She followed up on January 7, 2008, with filing of petition for annulment, claiming that her marriage to Husband was bigamous. On August 15, 2008, Trial Court found that Husband and Girlfriend’s marriage was illegal and void under California Family Code Section 2201(a) [subsequent marriage to another person is illegal and void unless prior marriage ended in divorce or annulment or prior spouse has been missing for five years or is generally reputed or believed to be dead] because Husband was still married to Wife when he purportedly married Girlfriend. Accordingly, Trial Court entered a judgment of nullity as to parties’ marital status, but did not adjudicate property issues.
After entry of that judgment, Husband filed a request to be declared a putative spouse. Following a two-day trial, Trial Court denied his request, finding that Husband lacked objectively reasonable good faith belief that his prior marriage to Wife was dissolved before he purportedly married Girlfriend.
Claiming that Trial Court erred by failing to consider Girlfriend’s good faith belief in validity of their marriage before it denied his request, Husband appealed, but California Court of Appeals has affirmed the Trial Court’s decision. Appellate Court has found that (1) putative spouse doctrine is designed to protect an innocent spouse’s rights in an invalid marriage; (2) the person seeking to be declared a putative spouse must have an objective (not subjective) good faith belief in validity of his or her marriage; (3) sufficient evidence supported Trial Court’s denial of putative-spouse status to Husband because Trial Court (a) could reasonably infer that Husband knew his divorce from Wife was not final from his falsely stating that his marriage to Girlfriend was his first marriage, (b) could also infer that Husband knew that his attorney had not yet filed his divorce petition, and (c) could reasonably find that Husband should have known that his attorney could not grant divorce, but would notify him when divorce judgment was issued; (4) disagreeing with the case of In re Marriage of Tejeda (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 973 [both parties are putative spouses if either party has good faith belief in validity of marriage], California Family Code Section 2251(a)(1) should be interpreted to protect a party who has a good faith belief (party without such a belief cannot ride on the coattails of innocent spouse to achieve putative spouse status); and (5) permitting both innocent and non-innocent parties to have putative spouse status would undermine the purpose of the putative-spouse doctrine and impermissibly allow a non-innocent party to reap benefits of that status.