What is the "Putative Spouse Doctrine" in Nevada?

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Per the case of Williams v. Williams, 120 Nev. Adv. Op. 64, 97 P.3d 1124 (2004), the Nevada Supreme Court has adopted the Putative Spouse doctrine.  There, the court ruled that where a marriage is void due to a prior legal impediment, the party seeking equitable relief will be treated as a spouse for the purposes of property division so long as that party entered the marriage with the good faith belief that the marriage was legally valid.

For a marriage to be deemed void, either of two conditions must be met: the parties are related by blood any closer than second cousins; or if either party has a concurrent marriage to another person.

The Putative Marriage doctrine was developed to protect public policy and correct any potential injustice created when a marriage is not legal but one party truly believed it to be.  In other words, a putative marriage is a marriage which is actually null but allows the civil effects of a valid marriage to transfer to the party who contracted in good faith as a form of protection.

Without the doctrine, the good faith contracting party would be left unprotected, especially in terms of monetary concerns.  This protection allows the good faith spouse to the various benefits of marriage such as division of property and damages for wrongful death.

One may wonder, however, how a spouse can prove that they entered the marriage in good faith without any knowledge that the other spouse was unable to legally partake in the marriage.

What is "Good Faith" in Nevada Family Law?

In Nevada, courts have held that “good faith” must be judged on a case-by-case basis in light of all the relevant facts, such as the efforts made to create a valid marriage, the alleged putative spouse's background and experience, and the circumstances surrounding the marriage, including any objective evidence of the marriage's invalidity.  Thus, the reasonableness of the claimed belief is a factor properly considered along with all other circumstances in assessing the genuineness of that belief.  However, it is important to note that a belief in the validity of the marriage need not be objectively reasonable under the Nevada standard.  Therefore, good faith is a question of fact that depends on all of the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the invalid marriage, and a party's state of mind when entering the marriage is of utmost importance.

Further, while the Nevada statutes do not explicitly outline that a reasonable person test is necessary for determining good faith, Nevada courts have concluded that the reasonableness of a party's belief is a factor that needs to be considered along with other relevant circumstances when determining whether the claimed belief was honest and sincere.  This means that a party that lacks sophistication or marital experience might be able to more easily establish a good faith belief than a more sophisticated party in a similar circumstance.

Need a Family Law Lawyer in Nevada?

If you need assistance in enforcing your rights under the Putative Spouse doctrine, seek the help of qualified and experienced legal counsel. Las Vegas Defense Group has years of experience in this area and can be reached at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a FREE consultation.


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