Putative Spouse Doctrine

A marriage may be declared null and void under certain circumstances, including a bigamous marriage (one party was married at the time of a subsequent marriage). This typically occurs when one party has filed for dissolution of marriage, but the Judgment of Dissolution is not final before entering into another marriage. The legal consequences of having a marriage annulled is that there is no community property and no legal claim for spousal support.

If your marriage has been annulled, you may still have a claim to community property and support as a putative spouse. A party to a void or voidable marriage has putative spouse status if he or she believed in good faith the marriage was valid. Family Code §225. “Good faith” belief is tested by an objective standard based on facts that would cause a reasonable person under the circumstances to harbor a good faith belief in the existence of a lawful California marriage.

Quasi-Marital Property: All property, real or personal, wherever situated, acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in California is community property. Family Code §760. Property that would have been community property had the marriage been valid is deemed “quasi-marital property” and, in a proceeding to terminate the invalid marriage, shall be divided between the parties as if it were community. Family Code §2251(a)(2).

Spousal Support: The court may, during the pendency of a proceeding for nullity of marriage or upon judgment of nullity of marriage, order a party to pay for the support of the other party in the same manner as if the marriage had not been void or voidable if the party for whose benefit the order is made is found to be a putative spouse. Family Code §2254.

Attorney’s Fees: Additionally, the Court may award attorney fees and costs to the innocent spouse in a proceeding for nullity of marriage. Family Code §2255.

The problem with the legal remedies for the putative spouse is that the innocent spouse is protected under the provisions for spousal support and attorneys fees, but not under division of quasi-community property assets and debts. In other words, the guilty party (fraud or wrongdoing in entering into the marriage) cannot be awarded spousal support or attorney’s fees from the innocent spouse. However, once putative spouse status has been granted, then the court must divide quasi-community property and debts under the same laws that apply to community property. This may result in a division of assets and debts in favor of the guilty party than otherwise would result if putative spouse status was not granted. Therefore, a party to a null or void marriage should consult with a family law attorney to evaluate all potential legal consequences before requesting putative spouse status.

Do you want to hear more about the latest information on Putative Spouse Doctrine? If you have questions regarding this issue, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. The Law Office of Family Law Specialist Richard E. Bawden also handles legal issues regarding adoption, annulment, mediation, domestic violence, child custody, child support, spousal support and bankruptcy as well as pre-marital agreements. Telephone (909)792-0222, or email us at [email protected]

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