putative spouse

What is a Putative Spouse?

Depending on where you live, you may or may not have to follow formal steps to be considered married. In California, however, certain legal requirements must be met for a couple to be considered legally wed. Generally, if a California couple does not meet these requirements, they will not have the same legal protections and rights as those who are married. One possible exception is when there is a putative spouse. So, it’s important to know: What is a putative spouse?

What is a Putative Spouse? 

A putative spouse is a person who has a good faith belief that they have been living with another person as their married partner. In California, the law recognizes the rights of a person who meets this definition.

What Rights Does a Putative Spouse Have in California?

Under California Law, someone determined to be a putative spouse will have the same rights as someone legally married. This means that when the relationship is ending, a court can make decisions regarding property division, child custody, and spousal support just as it could in a California divorce, legal separation, or dissolution of a domestic partnership.

Does it Matter if the Marriage is Voidable?

There are numerous reasons that a marriage may be voidable. For instance, suppose a couple married when one partner was already married. In that situation, a spouse may believe themselves to be legally married but actually be in a voidable marriage. Likewise, a couple may go through a marriage ceremony believing they have met all California legal requirements, only to learn later they were mistaken;

in these and other situations where a spouse believes in good faith that they are married, the court may grant the individual putative status.

How Does a California Court Determine Good Faith?

Good faith is generally shown by the party’s actions and can be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person. A court will examine the evidence and determine whether a reasonably prudent person would have believed themselves to be married under the same circumstances.

A California court will look at similar facts as another state might examine to determine if a common law marriage exists. For instance, if a couple identifies themselves to others as married and completes official documents such as tax and life insurance forms representing themselves to be married, the court can take this into consideration.

What Happens Without a Putative Designation? 

If one or both partners learns their marriage is invalid, the couple may have the option of having it annulled. However, an annulment does not confer the same rights as would be granted to a putative spouse. In an annulment, if there’s no putative spouse, a judge can’t divide your property and debts or order spousal support. When a party is granted putative status, the assets, debt, and property acquired during their marriage will be divided as community property, and spousal support may be ordered. Putative spouses also have intestate succession rights to their former partner’s estate.

If you have concerns that your marriage is not valid, it’s essential that you consult with an experienced California family law attorney as soon as possible. You and your California family law lawyer can review your circumstances and determine your next steps. If you are granted putative status, your attorney can help you with property division, child custody, support, and the other issues in your case.

Contact a California Family Law Attorney Today

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced California child custody attorneys who can help you with your child custody issues. Our firm assists clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website.