Thursday, March 08, 2018

Chaney v. Netterstrom (Cal. Ct. App. - March 8, 2018)

Here's an interesting strategic decision.

The parties get "married."  Notice that I put "married" in quotes.  By that, I mean that they get a marriage license, and have a ceremony.  But they never send the completed marriage license back to the county recorder.  So for all the county knows, they're still single.  Whereas everyone else in the universe thinks they're married (and they act like it).

Why do that?  Well, for one thing, it gets your parents off your back.  They think you're "married" even though you're not.  More significantly, that way you can still claim to be single.  On your tax returns (hence avoiding the marriage penalty).  With the Social Security office; e.g., as here, so the "wife" doesn't lose her Social Security survivor benefits (from a prior marriage).

See how that works?

Now, that's a problem when and if the two of you split up, and one of you asks to get "divorced."  Because then we're going to have to figure out if you were ever actually married in the first place.

But today's opinion solves that problem for us.  The Court of Appeal holds that, yep, you're still in fact married, even if no one returns the license.  Notwithstanding the fact that the statute clearly says that when you pull a confidential marriage license, you're required to send the completed form back to the recorder once you're married.  (The statute says that a confidential marriage license “shall be returned by the person solemnizing the marriage to the office of the county clerk in the county in which the license was issued within 10 days after the ceremony.” (§ 506, subd. (c), italics added; § 423 [“The person solemnizing the marriage shall return the marriage license . . . to the county recorder . . . within 10 days of the ceremony.” Italics added]; Health & Saf. Code, § 103150 [A marriage “shall be registered by the person performing the ceremony.” Italics added].) The word “shall” means that the act is mandatory. (§ 12.)")

I'm just fine with that result.  It seems like the Court of Appeal gets this one right.  If you pull the marriage license and hold the ceremony, you're still in fact married, even if you don't comply with the statute's requirement that you return the form.  It's the ceremony that married you, not the mailing back.

Though notice that this doesn't obviate all the tax- and Social Security-related benefits that this couple received during their marriage.  They don't have to give all that stuff back.  Or at least not yet; and, potentially, never.

So maybe that's an actual strategy.  Pretend to get married, don't return the form, say to everyone except the government that you're married, and get all the benefits of marriage without any of the liabilities.

In theory, at least, that works.

Good luck trying to get your would-be spouse to agree to that.