At Berenji & Associates, we often get questions regarding what makes a valid marriage and how that affects the community property rights. California is a community property jurisdiction, which means that there is a presumption that all the assets and debts that are attained during the marriage are community in nature, belonging to both husband and wife. In most cases, a valid marriage has to exist between a Husband and a Wife for the community estate laws to apply.
What Is A Valid Marriage?
A valid marriage is one where there is a marriage license issued by the county and the marriage is consummated by an official with the power to marry the couple and then a marriage certificate is issued by the County. California also recognizes registered domestic partnerships. A couple who have registered their domestic partnership are afforded the same rights and protections under the California community property laws as a married couple.
In certain situations, a couple might think that they have a valid marriage but at the time of separation they realize that their marriage is not valid. For example, there are some situations where the couple had forgotten to obtain their marriage certificate after they took their vows and they have lived as man and wife for many years, filing joint tax returns and presenting themselves to the public as man and wife.
In other cases, the couple might have been married by an individual who did not have the authority to marry the couple or in very rare cases, one spouse would intentionally fail to submit the necessary paperwork to the county in order to obtain the marriage certificate and then lie to the other and pretend that he or she did obtain the marriage certificate.
There are other situations where the parties have actually met the procedural requirements of getting married but their marriage is void or voidable. One common reason the courts find that a marriage is void or voidable is where the parties getting married were already married to someone else at the time they got married.
Again this can occur accidentally where one spouse was under the mistaken belief that he or she was already divorced from their prior husband or wife, but there are also incidences where one spouse intentionally hides the fact that they are still married to someone else. California does not recognize bigamy, as such; only one man can be married to one woman and vice versa. Multiple marriages are not recognized in California.
In cases where, because of some mistake, the parties marriage is not valid, void or voidable, the couple can be deemed to be putative spouses, which is just another way of saying that they will be deemed to be married and their estate will be subject to the community property laws. However, in order to invoke the doctrine of putative spouse, the mistake has to be unintentional.
For example, if one spouse knowingly fails to obtain the marriage certificate or knowingly marries a second time while still married to their first spouse, then that individual will not be able to claim that they are a putative spouse. The spouse trying to use this legal concept must have clean hands, their mistake cannot be intentional.
If the court determines that the marriage is not valid, void or voidable then the community property law presumption will not apply and the court will have to make a determination of how to divide the parties’ assets usually awarding the bulk of the estate to the spouse who actually paid for things, similar to a partition action of real property.
If you have questions regarding your marriage and community property, call the divorce lawyers at Berenji & Associates today for a free consultation.