A and B have been a couple for the last three years. A moved into B’s apartment after about one year of dating; the two were not yet married. One year after that, A invited B on a cruise-ship vacation. The trip lasted ten days, including several shore days when the ship docked at a port. On these days, the passengers could spend the day sightseeing or relaxing outside the ship.
On the last shore day, A told B that he had a surprise for her on the beach. When the two disembarked and walked to the beach, A dropped to one knee and proposed that the two get married right then and there. B joyfully agreed. A brief time later, a cruise ship employee appeared and performed a short ceremony.
When A and B returned home, they showed off their wedding rings to their family and friends, telling everyone that they had eloped on the cruise. They then moved into a house that they had bought jointly, putting both of their names on the title. But A never mentioned to B that he had arranged for only a private commitment ceremony, and not a legal wedding ceremony. The cruise ship employee who performed the ceremony was not a licensed officiant, nor did the two secure or fill out a marriage license of any kind.
Following the trip, A and B lived happily together for eight months. But then, after a series of fights, A moved out of their shared home. B consulted a divorce attorney, asking what her options were if she wished to end her marriage, and what she might expect to receive from property division. The attorney asked B for a copy of her marriage license, which prompted her to realize that she may not have signed any license. B emailed A to ask about a marriage license, and he replied:
Sorry, I guess I should have explained this before now: the ceremony performed by the cruise ship employee was described as a “private commitment ceremony,” and was way cheaper than the “wedding ceremony with qualified officiant.” I was trying to be romantic, more than to get legally married, and I guess I hadn’t really done my research. I never got a marriage license. Does this mean we’re not married? That’s unfortunate, although I guess it makes matters simpler, if you want to end things between us.
B has since verified that A correctly described their beachside ceremony. Her attorney has informed her that under her state’s laws, she is not legally married to A. Her attorney also told her, however, that her state allows for common-law marriages and follows the putative-spouse doctrine. Assume that everything the attorney told B is correct.
- Will B successfully assert that she was in a common-law marriage with A, and why or why not? Explain.
- Will B successfully argue that a court should apply the putative-spouse doctrine, and why or why not? Explain.