California Appeals Court Addresses Definition of "Remarriage" in Deciding Question of Spousal Maintenance

August 30, 2012
By Thomas M. Huguenor on August 30, 2012 7:06 AM |

1383703_77353170.jpgA California appeals court, in Marriage of Left, has upheld an order that a man must continue to pay spousal maintenance, finding that his ex-wife's alleged remarriage was intentionally not legally valid and did not extinguish his maintenance obligation. In reaching its decision, the court examined the legal meaning of "remarriage" for the purposes of determining when to terminate a spousal maintenance order.

The parties, Andrew and Andrea Left, were married in June 2001, and Andrea filed for divorce in November 2005. The two entered into a stipulation in February 2007 in which Andrew, who worked as a stock trader, agreed to pay monthly child support of $14,590 and spousal maintenance of $32,547. The two reportedly attempted to resolve contested issues for some time. A court entered a "status-only" order dissolving the marriage on June 30, 2008, but it reserved jurisdiction over all remaining issues

According to the court's ruling, Andrea got engaged in December 2008. She and her fiance set a wedding date of May 2, 2009, believing that the remaining divorce issues would be settled by then. They planned and made arrangements for the wedding, but in the weeks leading up to the wedding date, Andrea reportedly realized that some divorce issues would remain unresolved. She did not want to enter into a new marriage until the remaining divorce issues were resolved, but she did not want to cancel the wedding ceremony, either. Instead of a "wedding," she and her fiance had a "commitment ceremony" that day. The rabbi who performed the ceremony was aware that they had not obtained a marriage license, although the guests reportedly believed that they had gotten married. They informed Andrew on June 24, 2009, that they were not legally married.

Andrew filed an order to show cause requesting termination of spousal maintenance in October 2009, arguing in part that Andrea’s remarriage extinguished his obligation under state law. Andrea filed an order for contempt for non-payment of maintenance. The parties also presented issues involving changed income information for Andrew and amendments to the 2007 stipulation. The court found Andrew in contempt for several counts of non-payment and ordered a reduction in the monthly maintenance payment. Andrew appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeals ruled that Andrea’s “remarriage” was not legally valid, and that therefore Andrew was still obligated to pay maintenance. It reviewed precedents cited by Andrew in which a court extinguished a person’s spousal maintenance obligation after the obligee entered into a void or voidable marriage. The court held that this case was different, because the cited cases all involved a purportedly legal marriage that, after the fact of the marriage ceremony, was determined to be void or voidable. Andrea’s ceremony deliberately did not meet the basic requirements for a legal California marriage, beginning with the fact that the couple did not obtain a marriage license. The court identified four elements required to create a legal marriage: (1) consent of both parties; (2) a state-issued license; (3) solemnization from an authorized person; and (4) a declaration of intent to marry by both parties before the authorized person. Andrea’s alleged marriage did not meet these criteria.

Thomas Huguenor, a family law specialist certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization, has 35 years of experience guiding the people of San Diego through the family law process, including spousal maintenance and child support. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us online or at (858) 458-9500.

More Blog Posts:

California Bill Would Prevent Convicted Abusers from Receiving Spousal Maintenance, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, March 22, 2012

San Diego Court Places Limits on Parents' Duty to Disclose Financial Changes, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, January 19, 2012

Big Spousal Support Bill for the Richest Man in San Diego County, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, October 6, 2011

Photo credit: 'After the Sunrise Wedding' by theswedish on stock.xchng.