Many people mistakenly assume that holding a wedding ceremony where an officiant presides over the proceedings is sufficient to be legally married. Not so. If a marriage license is not issued in the state of Arizona, the marriage is not legally valid.

That’s right – no license, no marriage. This means that if you and your supposed spouse simply had a wedding ceremony but failed to file the necessary paperwork, you are not technically married, at least in the eyes of the state.

What if a marriage license was issued, but never filed with the appropriate state agency? That too may negate the legal validity of a marriage. This issue has actually been litigated in an Arizona court in Martinez v. Ilem, 1 CA-CV 14-0717 FC (Ariz. Ct. App. 2015).

In this case, the couple participated in a wedding ceremony in California in 1992. In 2014, the husband filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The wife filed a Motion for Summary Judgment claiming they were never legally married since a marriage license was not issued in California. The husband countered that the marriage license was issued, but not filed with the state due to a mistake by the wedding officiant. Though, he was unable to produce a copy of the alleged license since the county in which the marriage license application was filed purges applications every two years. This means we are effectively left with a he said versus she said case.

The trial court denied the summary judgment motion and the wife appealed.

The Arizona Court of Appeals considered the appeal and determined that there was a sufficient dispute of material fact to warrant the case moving forward, but failed to address the central legal question – if a marriage license was issued, but not filed, is a marriage legally valid? Instead, the Court of Appeals will send the case back to the trial court so a fact finder can make a determination.

If, for argument’s sake, the trial court finds that the marriage was not legally valid due to the lack of a properly recorded marriage license, does that mean the parties are not entitled to relief? Enter the putative spouse doctrine.

Putative Spouse Doctrine Established for Such Circumstances

If a marriage is determined to be legally invalid, a party that reasonably believed the marriage was valid may still be entitled to relief under the putative spouse doctrine or other equitable doctrines. This doctrine is founded on common sense and compassion. Courts want to avoid a scenario where a spouse, thinking they were legally married for fifteen years, suddenly discovers the marriage was invalid and is left with absolutely nothing. Such an outcome would be cruel. This doctrine holds that even a legally invalid marriage if entered into in good faith, enables the parties to seek relief through a family court.

Contact an Experienced Tempe Divorce Lawyer

As you can see, a divorce can become quite complex at the drop of a dime. This is why you should retain the Law Office of Ronald L. Kossack to help guide you through the divorce process. To schedule a free initial consultation to speak with an experienced Tempe divorce attorney, contact us online or by calling 480-345-2652.