If a California Family Law court finds that a marriage is void or voidable and that either party or both parties had a good faith belief that the marriage was valid, the court will declare either one or both parties to have the status of a putative spouse. Some of the rules that apply to a putative spouse also apply to Registered Domestic Partners.
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A putative spouse is a person who is cohabiting with another person and who has a good faith belief that they are legally married. A putative spouse and the other spouse are not legally married. Although the marriage may have been entered into in good faith, it is invalid due to a legal flaw, such as the existence of a prior marriage. Although not legally married, a putative spouse may acquire the rights that are conferred upon a legal spouse. This includes the right to receive spousal support and a division of community property.
Good Faith Belief
The California courts must make an inquiry into the party’s subjective and objective belief to determine if there was a valid marriage. Subjective belief focuses on the actual state of mind of the alleged putative spouse. Did the putative spouse believe that he or she was married? Did they act in someway to support this belief? What benefits or detriments did the putative spouse experience. While there is no requirement that the claimed belief be objectively reasonable, good faith is a relative quality and depends on all the relevant circumstances, including objective circumstances. Examples of objective circumstances can be: if the couple represented themselves to be married; if they held property or bank accounts in joint title; and, if they otherwise acted as a married couple.
Determining Good Faith Belief
In determining good faith, a California trial court must consider the efforts made to create a valid marriage, the alleged putative spouse’s personal background and experience, and all the circumstances surrounding the marriage. The reasonableness of the putative spouse’s belief in the face of objective circumstances pointing to an invalid marriage is also considered in determining whether the belief was genuinely and honestly held.
If a putative spouse claim is upheld, the property acquired during the invalid marriage is considered “quasi-marital property” and is treated like community property in an annulment or estate proceeding. A California Family Law court will designate property that would otherwise have been the spouses’ community or quasi-community property as “quasi-marital property” and will divide the property as if there was a valid marriage.
A putative spouse has intestate succession rights to the same extent as a surviving spouse. In addition, an ownership claim in property may be asserted by the putative spouse in the same manner as would be asserted by a spouse. However, a putative spouse is not entitled to a family allowance. In addition, if the decedent is survived both by a surviving spouse and a putative spouse, the application of equitable principles may result in the putative spouse’s only being entitled to his or her one-half of the quasi-marital property, leaving the decedent’s one-half to pass by will or intestate succession.
Support for Putative Spouse
In a judgment of dissolution or legal separation, the court may order a party to pay spousal support to the other in any amount, and for any period of time, that the court deems just and reasonable. The same is true for a judgment of nullity, as long as the party for whose benefit the order is made is found to be a putative spouse. A party found to be a putative spouse may be awarded support from the other party, both during the pendency of a nullity proceeding and in a judgment of nullity, as if the marriage had not been void or voidable.
The court may also order a party who is required to pay spousal support to furnish reasonable security for payment. However, the court’s authority to order security is limited by the requirement that the security be “reasonable.”
Registered Domestic Partners (RDPs)
A person with a good faith belief in the validity of his or her registered domestic partnership is entitled to protection as a putative registered domestic partner, even if the domestic partnership was not properly registered. By extension of the family code for a putative spouse, quasi-marital-property principles apply to “putative domestic partners.”
Registered Domestic Partner Nullity Proceedings
Registered domestic partners may petition the court for a nullity of their partnership on the basis of its being a void or voidable relationship. A California Family Law court may order temporary or permanent partner support in a nullity action if one or both parties is found to be a “putative” domestic partner.
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