Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten, Inc. was a wrongful death action that addressed the necessary state of mind that a person needs to qualify as a putative spouse.
The husband had been previously married when he met his second wife. He filed for divorce while he and his second wife were living together. He married his second wife before the divorce from his first wife was final. The marriage to his second wife was void even though the divorce to the second wife was finalized a few months after the marriage. Several years after the marriage to the second wife, the husband was killed in a work accident.
After her husband’s death, the second wife filed a wrongful death action against the defendant. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The defendant argued that the second wife was not in a valid marriage with the decedent, because he was still married to his first wife when he married his second wife. Therefore, she was not entitled to any recovery as a surviving spouse. The second wife argued that she qualified as a putative spouse and was entitled to pursue a wrongful death action. The trial court dismissed the action, because the wife could not qualify under the objective reasonable person test as a putative spouse.
The Court of Appeal reversed, stating that in order to qualify as a putative spouse, the standard should be a subjective reasonable belief rather than an objective belief. The California Supreme Court granted review and upheld the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court stated that the purpose of the putative spouse doctrine was to protect the expectations of innocent parties and to achieve results that are equitable, fair, and just. If the standard was objective then the very persons that the statute was meant to protect would not be protected. In reviewing an allegation of putative spouse, the court must look at the totality of circumstances to determine whether or not an individual asserting status as a putative spouse would qualify as a putative spouse.
If you need legal advice and are looking for a family law lawyer in Orange County to address a dissolution issue such as legal separation, annulment, custody, child support, spousal support and/or property division, please consider Treviño Law in your divorce attorney search. We are located in Laguna Hills right off Lake Forest exit to both the 405 and 5 freeway.
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