Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Panel: Attorney’s Marriage to Bigamist Wife Was Valid
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A northern California attorney who left his wife of 18 years to marry a legal secretary could not later have that union nullified on the basis of her elopement with another man before their wedding, while she was still married to yet another man, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The panel explained that under both Nevada and California law, a bigamous marriage is void from its inception, even if it has not been declared void by a court, and so Patricia Seaton could assert the invalidity of her prior union against Jeffrey Seaton to pursue her putative spouse claim.
Patricia Seaton married Richard LaForm in 1973, and after separating from him in 1987, began dating Henry Marquez.
In January 1988, she met Jeffrey Seaton, then a law student intern who was married to Debra Meyer. Shortly thereafter, Patricia Seaton ended her relationship with Marquez, and Jeffrey Seaton separated from Meyer.
Jeffrey Seaton helped Patricia Seaton obtain a restraining order against Marquez in May 1988, but 10 days later, she traveled to Nevada with Marquez. After a buffet lunch and several shots of tequila, Patricia Seaton said, they ended up at a wedding chapel where they were married after she falsely stated in her marriage license application that her marriage to LaForm had ended in April.
Patricia Seaton claimed she told Jeffrey Seaton about the elopement approximately one week later. She said he advised her the marriage to Marquez was void because she was still married to LaForm and that she did not need to seek an annulment.
Jeffrey Seaton, however, asserted he only discovered the union in 1989 when he discovered a picture from the Nevada ceremony. He said Patricia Seaton had told him she obtained an annulment, and he believed her.
Patricia Seaton’s marriage to Laform was dissolved in December 1988, but her marriage to Marquez was never dissolved or annulled. Jeffrey Seaton’s marriage to Meyer was dissolved in April 1991.
Patricia Seaton and Jeffrey Seaton were married in June 1991.
In November 2008, Jeffrey Seaton filed a petition for legal separation and Patricia Seaton responded with a request for dissolution. Over Patricia Seaton’s opposition, Jeffrey Seaton was allowed to amend the petition to request a judgment of nullity based on Patricia Seaton’s former marriage to Marquez.
A two-day court trial was held before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Matthew J. Gary in September 2009. Gary nullified the marriage on the ground that Patricia Seaton was married to Marquez when she attempted to marry Jeffrey Seaton.
Applying Nevada law to the validity of the marriage with Marquez, Gary ruled that the marriage was void because of Patricia Seaton’s prior marriage to LaForm, but an annulment proceeding was still required to legally sever their relationship.
In reaching this decision, he relied on the Nevada Supreme Court statement in Williams v. Williams (2004) 120 Nev. 559, 564 that a bigamous marriage is void under N.R.S. § 125.290, but “[a]n annulment proceeding is the proper manner to dissolve a void marriage and resolve other issues arising from the dissolution of the relationship.”
Since Patricia Seaton’s marriage to Marquez had not been annulled, Gary found, their union had not been severed and so Patricia Seaton’s subsequent marriage to Jeffrey Seaton was void.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Louis R. Mauro agreed that Patricia Seaton’s marriage to Marquez was void under Nevada law, but he said a court did not need to declare it void to legally sever the marital relationship.
He reasoned “the relevant statement in Williams is dicta” as it was unnecessary to the determination of the question of whether the would-be wife in that case was entitled to half of the parties’ joint property as a putative spouse.
Applying the plain meaning of N.R.S. § 125.290, which is consistent with California law, Mauro said, Patricia Seaton’s bigamous marriage to Marquez was void from the onset.
The justice suggested that Patricia Seaton “should not benefit from her deception,” but since the conclusion that Patricia Seaton’s marriage to Marquez did not exist when she married Jeffrey Seaton was consistent with Patricia Seaton’s representation to Jeffrey Seaton and consistent with Jeffrey Seaton’s belief throughout his marriage to Patricia Seaton, she could assert the invalidity of her marriage to Marquez to defeat Jeffrey Seaton’s request for nullity of his marriage to her.
“Although we do not condone Patricia Seaton’s conduct, controlling law compels the conclusion that her marriage to Jeffrey Seaton was valid,” Mauro said.
The case is in re Marriage of Seaton, 11 S.O.S. 6015.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company