“What Is A Putative Marriage?”

A putative marriage is a term used in California to refer to people where at least one person thought they were married, but the marriage is legally void for some reason. It most commonly occurs where two people get married, but one person was not legally divorced from a first spouse. This is actually more common than you might think.

When the person who is not at fault reasonably believes that the marriage was valid and had no reason to know otherwise, the court can find that although the marriage is void, a “putative” marriage existed and deal with the property of the union as community property. This is a doctrine of fairness, since the party believed they were married and did not know that the marriage could be found to be void.

In such cases, the court can divide property as if it was community property and using community property principles, and can even award spousal support in some cases.

The big fight in these cases is whether or not the innocent spouse had both a subjective (meaning personal) belief that they were married and that the belief was reasonable under the circumstances. A putative marriage will not be found if either the innocent party did not actually believe they were validly married, or if the facts are such that a reasonable person could not have believed that the parties were married. Evidence is often presented about whether or not the ceremony was held in public, if a marriage license was obtained, and if the parties had any reason to know the marriage would not be actually legally binding.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.

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