Voidable or Void? Two Too Many Husbands in Bigamous Marriage Case

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 10, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Nobody's perfect, so we understand how someone could accidentally wind up married to two people at once...once. But twice? That just seems greedy.

Regardless of a person's efforts to catch multiple fish from the marital sea at the same time, California law provides, with limited exceptions, that an individual can only be married to one person at a time.

The Third Appellate District in Sacramento was asked to decide if Nevada law, like California law, follows the one-spouse-at-a-time rule. The court concluded that in both states, a bigamous marriage is void from its inception, even if it has not been declared void by a court.

Let's see how they arrived at that conclusion, shall we?

Patricia married Richard in 1973. After separating from Richard in 1987, she dated Henry for several months. Patricia met Jeffrey in January 1988, and broke up with Henry in February 1988. By March 1988, Jeffrey had separated from his wife in order to pursue a relationship with Patricia.

One problem: Henry wasn't over Patricia.

Patricia asked Jeffrey to help her get a restraining order against Henry. Ten days after the order was obtained, Patricia drove to Reno and married Henry - Henry talked her into the marriage when she was drunk because he was "very good at talking" - falsely stating in her marriage license application that her marriage to Richard had ended.

Back in California the next day, Patricia recognized the error of her ways and consulted a family attorney about getting the Reno marriage annulled. The attorney told her there was no need to get an annulment because the marriage to Henry was void since she was already married to Richard.

Patricia's marriage to Richard was dissolved in December 1988. Her marriage to Henry was never dissolved or annulled. Jeffrey's marriage to his first wife was dissolved in April 1991. Patricia and Jeffrey were married in June 1991.

In November 2008, Jeffrey filed a petition for legal separation. Over Patricia's opposition, Jeffrey was allowed to amend the petition to request a judgment of nullity based on Patricia's former marriage to Henry.

In 2009, a trial court nullified Patricia and Jeffrey's marriage on the grounds that Patricia was married to Henry when she attempted to marry Jeffrey. Regardless of the validity of a bigamous marriage, the court said Patricia should have sought an annulment.

The appellate court disagreed, noting that a bigamous marriage, like Patricia's union with Henry, is void regardless of court action in both California and Nevada. (A voidable marriage, by contrast, is valid for all purposes until it is judicially declared a nullity.)

If you're handling an interstate bigamous marriage challenge in a California divorce dispute, check to see if there is a conflict of laws regarding void/voidable unions between the marital state and California.

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