Putative Marriage In California Law

In Wagner v. County of Imperial (1983), 145 Cal. App. 3d 980 the court was faced with a seemingly inconsistent trial court ruling. The trial court found that the plaintiff met all of the elements of Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, subdivision (b)'s definition of putative spouse. Nevertheless, the trial court ruled that the plaintiff could not recover for the wrongful death of her common law husband solely because no actual solemnization ceremony occurred. The Wagner court reversed on the ground that the trial court's legal conclusion was contrary to its express finding of good faith. The court noted that "although the usual putative marriage situation may arise under circumstances where a marriage is duly solemnized and celebrated in good faith but suffers from a legal infirmity, lack of a solemnization ceremony does not necessarily mean bad faith precluding finding a putative marriage." (145 Cal. App. 3d at p. 983.) Similarly, the court in In re Marriage of Vryonis, supra, 202 Cal. App. 3d 712, observed that solemnization is not an absolute prerequisite to establishing a putative marriage. (Id. at p. 721.) However, the court also noted that putative spouse status must rest on facts that would cause a reasonable person to harbor a good faith belief in the existence of a valid marriage. "Without some diligent attempt to meet the requisites of a valid marriage [citation], a claim of good faith belief in a valid marriage would lack any reasonable basis." (Ibid.)