When Is A Remarriage Not A Remarriage?

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Andrew and Andrea got married in 2001.  In 2005 they separated.  As part of the divorce Andrew agreed to pay Andrea spousal support to Andrea in the amount of $32,547 per month and child support in the amount of $14,590 per month.  Marital status was terminated, but the other issues continued to linger in the courts.

Andrea moved on, fell in love with a new guy named Todd, got engaged, and started living with him.  A wedding date was set for May 2, 2009, the invitations went out, and a gift list was created at Bloomingdale’s.  Things were looking good for Andrew to have his spousal support obligation terminated by Andrea’s remarriage pursuant to California Family Code Section 4337.

Shortly before the wedding date Andrea got cold feet because she did not want to get married to Todd while the financial and other issues in her divorce from Andrew were still pending (surely the thought of losing $32,547 per month in spousal support played no part in the delay). However, because they had sent out invitations for a May 2, 2009 ceremony and had spent money on planned activities, they wanted to proceed with the celebration. On May 2, 2009, the celebration took place in Palm Springs.  Andrea testified that she would call the event a “commitment ceremony.”  She wore her wedding dress, and she wanted the children to believe that she was getting married.  She and Todd signed a ketubah, which is a Jewish marriage contract.  However, Andrea and Todd did not obtain a marriage license.

On June 24, 2009, Andrea informed Andrew that she and Todd were not really married.  On July 31, 2009, Andrew confirmed that he knew they were not married. Andrew filed his OSC to terminate spousal support on October 19, 2009.  The primary ground for the application was Andrea’s remarriage to Todd.  In the alternative, Andrew requested termination based on a combination of factors:  (1) the marriage was one of short duration; (2) Andrew had already paid spousal support to Andrea for over three years, which represented nearly three-fourths the length of the marriage; (3) Andrea had a law degree, yet had made no effort to support herself; and (4) Andrea was cohabitating with Todd.

The trial court held that Andrea was not remarried, therefore the “non-marriage ceremony several months ago has no real effect on the support award.”  Andrew’s main argument on appeal involves the ceremony which took place on May 2, 2009, between Andrea and Todd.  Andrew argues that the trial court misinterpreted section 4337 and decisional law in finding that Andrea had not remarried as that term is used in section 4337.  Andrew loses.

Section 4337 provides:  “Except as otherwise agreed by the parties in writing, the obligation of a party under an order for the support of the other party terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the other party.”

. . .

In California, there are several requirements for a valid marriage.  The parties must consent to the marriage; consent must be followed by the issuance of a license; and the marriage must be solemnized by an authorized person.  (§§ 300, 400.)  In addition, the parties must declare, in the presence of the person solemnizing the marriage, that they take each other as husband and wife.  (§ 420.)

The record shows that Andrea and Todd did not become legally married at the commitment ceremony on May 2, 2009.  No marriage license was issued.  Rabbi Asa, who presided over the ceremony, was aware that the parties did not have a marriage license.  Andrea and Todd did not enter into a valid marriage under California law.

. . .

Andrew has provided no authority that the term “remarriage” as used in section 4337 means anything other than a remarriage carried out in conformity with the statutory requirements.  Because Andrea and Todd did not meet those requirements, they did not marry, and Andrew’s obligation to pay spousal support did not terminate under section 4337.

Please click here for the original Left opinion.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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