Williams v. Williams
120 Nev. 559, 97, P.3d 1124 (2004)

  • Marcie and Richard got married. At the time Marcie thought she was legally divorced from John. She wasn’t.
    • She never received any legal paperwork from Richard, she just relied on his statements that he had gotten a valid divorce.
  • Marcie and Richard lived together for 27 years thinking that they were legally married.
    • Because Marcie was already legally married to John, she was guilty of bigamy and could never legally enter into the second marriage with Richard. Therefore, the second marriage is annulled because it is void.
  • Marcie and Richard broke up. Richard filed for an annulment on the grounds that their marriage was void.
    • Richard argued that since they were never legally married, Marcie had no grounds for making claims for property and alimony as part of a divorce settlement. There could be no divorce because there had been no marriage.
    • Marcie argued that she had thought she was married in good faith to Richard, and it would be inequitable to allow him to get away on a technicality.
  • The Trial Court found for Marcie. Richard appealed.
    • The Trial Court awarded Marcie an equitable division or property as well as alimony.
  • The Nevada Supreme Court partially reversed.
    • The Nevada Supreme Court adopted the doctrine of the putative spouse.
      • The putative spouse doctrine says that an individual whose marriage is void due to a prior legal impediment is treated as a spouse so long as the party seeking equitable relief participated in the marriage ceremony in the good faith belief that the ceremony was legally valid.
      • The Court found that public policy and equity require not screwing over people who relied on their belief that they were married.
    • The Court affirmed the Trial Court’s division of property.
      • The Court found that the property should be divided under the same rules as it would have been had the pair been legally married.
    • The Court reversed the Trial Court’s award of alimony.
      • The Court found that traditionally the putative spouse doctrine did not provide for any awards of spousal support.
        • The Court noted that some other courts and State Statutes had extended the doctrine in cases of fraud, bad faith or statutory authority, but that wasn’t the case here.
  • A putative spouse is just an equity device, it is not a legal marriage. Therefore, Marcie cannot get other types of marriage benefits like social security benefits.