For most of us, marriage is a very special occasion. Two people unite and promise love, trust, and respect for the rest of their lives. There are a few rotten apples, however, who abuse the sacred vows of a marriage. On rare occasions, these rotten apples go out and marry, or attempt to marry, another person during the course of their existing marriage. If they succeed in doing so, this results in a “bigamous marriage.”
Bigamous marriages are not always intentional. Sometimes, a bigamous marriage may result from an error in attempting to file for a previous divorce. Just recently, it was discovered that Ben Vereen, Tony Award winner, was illegally married to two women for a whopping 36 years! Apparently, Vereen filed divorce papers to divorce Andrea back in 1972 and later believed the divorce was finalized. Vereen’s divorce attorneys also thought the divorce was finalized and the marriage was over.
One day, Andrea went to collect Social Security and, in surprise, discovered that the previous divorce from Vereen was never finalized; she was still legally married to Vereen and had been for decades.
There is another surprise to this madness, however. Andrea also discovered that another woman was collecting social security under Vereen’s name. This other woman is Nancy Bruner. Ms. Bruner apparently married Vereen back in 1976 when Vereen was still legally married to Andrea. Andrea filed for divorce, again and initiated a lawsuit. At the moment, the parties and attorneys are in heated settlement negotiations.
Bigamous Marriages in California
According to California’s Penal Code 281 and 283, if a person with a living husband or wife, goes and becomes married to another person, he or she is guilty of bigamy. California’s Penal Code further maintains that, during a bigamy trial, there is no requirement that the marriage be established by register, certificate, or other evidence. Rather, the marriage may be sufficiently proven by other admissible evidence. Per Penal Code 283, if a person is found to be guilty of bigamy, he or she will be punished with a fine not to exceed $10,000.00 or by imprisonment in a county jail or state prison for a term not to exceed one year.
Seeking an Annulment
If your spouse is married to another person, and is involved in a bigamous marriage, California allows you to file for an annulment to terminate your marriage. Per California law, an annulment occurs when a California court holds that your marriage, or domestic partnership, is not legally valid. In other words, in a California court deems your marriage annulled, this is similar to your marriage having never taken place. Your marriage was never legal, thus never happened.
There are several recognizable grounds for an annulment in California. You guessed it: bigamy, or a bigamous marriage, stands as one of the grounds for an annulment. For the annulment, you must be able to prove bigamy to the court. What you need to prove is listed above in this article. In some instances, it may be very difficult to prove the annulment. Therefore, it is recommended that you obtain the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.
Please note, however, that California recognizes time limitations for when you may file for an annulment. These time limitations are referred to as the “statute of limitations.” The specific statute of limitations for filing for an annulment on grounds of bigamy is as follows: either spouse of the second marriage can file for an annulment at anytime while the spouse from the first marriage is living. If the spouse from the first marriage dies, a spouse from the second marriage is most likely barred from filing for an annulment.
Effects of an Annulment in California
Again, if a marriage is annulled, it is like the marriage never happened. For this reason, several of the rights that people acquire from a valid marriage, upon a divorce or separation, are not provided for in the situation of an annulment.
Ordinarily, California holds that children born during a valid marriage are children to that marriage. If, however, children are born during the marriage that is later deemed to be invalid, California will not so hold the children to be of the marriage. Thus, a paternity test must be sought. If the court finds parentage of the child or children, a parent of the child may, at that time, request child custody or visitation and child support.
In regards to property and debt acquired during the invalid marriage, California’s community property law will not apply. This is simply because there was never a valid marriage to begin with. Therefore the property and debt obtained during the invalid marriage is not subject to distribution by the court; it is not deemed community property.
The same basic rule applies to spousal support. If a court holds that the marriage never existed, then an individual will not be ordered to pay child support.
The Putative Spouse Exception
Please note that, as with most areas of the law, a major exception applies to the rules of an annulment. If the court holds that your marriage is annulled, you may still have a “putative spouse status.” If you, or your attorney, can prove this, you may still be awarded community property, spousal support, and other property benefits recognized under California law.
As you may expect, however, it is not easy to prove your putative spouse status. In effort to establish such a status, you must prove to a California court that you maintained a good faith belief that your marriage, or domestic partnership, was entirely legal according to California law.
Take Action and Hire an Attorney for Your Case
Are you involved in a bigamous marriage? Do you want an annulment or divorce? If so, it is imperative that you seek the advice and assistance of an experienced family law attorney. The legal system may prove to be too complex to attack it alone. The lawyers at Berenji & Associates are here for you.
Our law office is conveniently located in Beverly Hills and assists clients throughout Los Angeles including San Fernando Valley, Encino, Sherman Oaks, Santa Monica, Venice, Marina Del Rey, Westwood, Brentwood and South Bay. We can be reached at (310) 730-1898. Please contact our law office today to set up a FREE, no obligation consultation. We look forward to talking to you.