Putative Spouse

Putative Spouse and A Good Faith Belief in a Valid Marriage

A putative spouse is a person who in good faith entered into a void marriage believing it was a valid marriage. Basically what this means is that if a person enters into a marriage believing it was valid and later the marriage is annulled, then the court will find that a putative spouse exists. Once there is a finding that one spouse believed in good faith that the parties were married, the court will treat assets acquired during the marriage as community property and divide them equally, assign debts equally and provide an order for spousal support.

Good faith is based on a subjective good faith and depends on the circumstances for the belief that the marriage was valid. The court will take into consideration all the facts that one party relied upon to believe that he or she was in a valid marriage. Although it may be difficult to fathom how someone enters into a void marriage, it occurs most often when one party has been married before and the previous divorce was not finalized. If the previous divorce is not finalized, then the second marriage is void. Even if the first divorce is finalized after the parties marry, the second marriage is void. If at the time of the marriage, the second spouse did not know that the parties to the first marriage were still married, then the second spouse may qualify as a putative spouse.

In Orange County, this issue also applies to domestic partners. If one partner believes in good faith that a valid domestic partnership was established and the court finds it credible, all assets acquired during the time of the good faith belief will be divided as if the parties were married.

There are many factors that are considered during the good faith argument—the spouses’ behavior, the circumstances of the ceremony, the credibility of the witnesses, the education of the parties, etc. In other words, all of the facts and surroundings in respect to the good faith belief that a valid marriage or domestic partnership existed.

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