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Woman’s Wrongful Death Suit Reinstated by Appeals Court


“A state appeals court reinstated a woman’s lawsuit,” a New York Family Lawyer reports. The wrongful death suit was over a man she had considered to be her husband for four years, but who was not divorced from his previous wife before their wedding day.

The Sixth District Court of Appeals in ruled that someone who “believed in good faith” that he or she was legally married is, indeed, entitled to marital rights – including the right to sue in the case of wrongful death. This ruling goes against more than 20 years of opposing rulings in the cases of “putative spouses.”

A putative spouse is one who mistakenly believes they are married. California courts have recognized the rights of such spouses for a century or more. Legislation affirmed those same rights in 1969.

In 1988, however, a Los Angeles appellate decision began requiring that those who claimed putative rights had to show that their belief was not only sincere, but also “objectively reasonable.” This particular case in 1988 rejected a woman’s claim to alimony which was based on marrying a man in a private religious ceremony that did not comply with state law. Her purported husband, at the time of the marriage, assured her that is was valid, but his tune changed two years later when he decided to marry another woman. The court, in this case, ruled that the woman’s belief that she was legally married was unreasonable and thus, she was not entitled to the marital right of alimony.

In the recent case, the court ruled that the 1988 decision was a distortion on the law that was meant to protect those who were taken advantage of. The court sided with the wife of an ironworker that died in a workplace accident. She believed she had been married to him for four years before his tragic death. She did not know that during their wedding ceremony, her groom was still married to a previous wife. The divorce became final 3 months after the ceremony. The defendant claimed she had never read the divorce papers closely and thus never knew about the overlapping date.

When she tried to sue a contractor for negligence, a judge dismissed the suit, saying she wasn’t married and should have known it. The Appeals Court, however, unanimously ruled that she is entitled to a trial. The presiding judge wrote that the law asks whether someone “honestly and genuinely (believes) that the marriage is valid.”

The woman’s attorney called the ruling “good for the institution of marriage.”

Whether you are challenging visistation, are filing for divorce, or need an order for protection, it is important to see quality legal advice and guidance to ensure your rights are protected.

Death in a family is a grievous affair and should other legal matters appear at such times, it’s almost impossible to handle it all. Contact Stephen Bilkis and Associates for advice and guidance.

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