Monday, November 30, 2009

In Re Marriage of Tejada (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 25, 2009)

As Chevy Chase says to Tim Matheson (as Matheson's wife, played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, looks on) in Fletch: "Sally Ann and Alan were married eight years ago. Making Alan a bigamist. Even in Utah."

What Fletch doesn't discuss -- but what the Court of Appeal does here -- is what this means for the property that Matheson and his (second) "wife" acquired. Something I admittedly never thought about until today. Does this mean that the property is community property? Or separate? (This is actually an issue in Fletch, since Matheson's character is wealthy, but the property that's been acquired has largely been obtained with his "wife's" money.)

Justice McAdams writes a balanced and pretty good opinion here. Holding that (1) even if the marriage is invalid (which bigamist marriages are), the spouses are still "putative" spouses, since one of the parties didn't know about the coterminous marriage, and (2) even the wrongdoing party (here, the husband) who knew about the bigamy is a putative spouse and is thus entitled to his share of the community property under the putative spouse doctrine.

This is far from a clear-cut case, and one could go either way on it. But I think that Justice McAdams gets it right. The best argument, at least to me, is that there's no need to spank the wrongdoing party because splitting up the property as community assets is precisely what the innocent spouse would have expected anyway pursuant to a valid marriage. That seems right.

You've still got the indignity of thinking that you're married to a man for (here) thirty years that you're not really married to. But that is what it is.

P.S. - Here's Fletch's take on the contemporary health care debate and the fact that "there have been a lot of changes in the law".