Annulment Property Rights

Annulment Property Rights

Property rights in an annulment can differ from a divorce. A divorce is a legal order ending a marriage. A Nevada annulment declares a marriage legally void. In Nevada, an annulment does not automatically eliminate issues like property rights. In some annulments, a Nevada court may choose to apply the putative spouse doctrine and apply community property laws to the division of the parties’ property.

Annulments can be difficult and stressful for all parties involved. An annulment can have both emotional and financial consequences. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the Nevada annulment process. Contact Anthem Divorce Lawyers today for a consultation.

What is a Void Marriage?

A legally prohibited marriage is void without an annulment. Under Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 125.290 a marriage is void if the law prohibits it because of either:

  1. Consanguinity between the parties (consanguinity means the spouses are close blood relatives)
  2. Either of the parties having a former spouse then living

A void marriage does not require an annulment, decree of divorce, or other legal proceedings declaring it dissolved. However, parties to a void marriage may still want a legal document declaring their marriage null and void. They may request a declaration of nullity of a void marriage.

A void marriage has its own distinct legal issues. If you have concerns about a potentially void marriage, contact an experienced lawyer. Anthem Divorce Lawyers have experience dealing with complex annulment issues. Contact us today for a consultation.

What is the Putative Spouse Doctrine?

In an annulled marriage, the Nevada courts can choose to apply the putative spouse doctrine. In Williams v. Williams, 120 Nev. Adv. Op. 64, 97 P.3d 1124 (2004), the Nevada Supreme Court said the following about the putative spouse doctrine:

  • Under the putative spouse doctrine, when a marriage is legally void, the civil effects of a legal marriage flow to the parties who contracted to marry in good faith. That is, a putative spouse is entitled to many of the rights of an actual spouse. A majority of states have recognized some form of the doctrine through case law or statute. States differ, however, on what exactly constitutes a “civil effect." The doctrine was developed to avoid depriving innocent parties who believe in good faith that they are married from being denied the economic and status-related benefits of marriage, such as property division, pension, and health benefits.

The Nevada Supreme Court applied the putative spouse doctrine in Williams. Application of the putative spouse doctrine is fact specific. Under the putative spouse doctrine, parties may have property rights.

What Were the Background Facts in Williams?

In Williams, the Nevada Supreme Court provided the following background facts:

  • On August 26, 1973, appellant Richard E. Williams underwent a marriage ceremony with respondent Marcie C. Williams. At that time, Marcie believed that she was divorced from John Allmaras. However, neither Marcie nor Allmaras had obtained a divorce. Richard and Marcie believed they were legally married and lived together, as husband and wife, for 27 years. In March 2000, Richard discovered that Marcie was not divorced from Allmaras at the time of their marriage ceremony.
  • In August 2000, Richard and Marcie permanently separated. In February 2001, Richard filed a complaint for an annulment. Marcie answered and counterclaimed for one-half of the property and spousal support as a putative spouse.

The district court “granted the annulment and awarded Marcie one-half of all the jointly-held property and spousal support.”

Richard appealed the district court’s decision equally dividing the parties’ property and ordering Richard to pay Marcie $500 per month for four years.

Nevada Supreme Court Annulment Discussion in Williams

The Nevada Supreme Court said the following about the Williams’ relationship and annulment:

  • A marriage is void if either of the parties to the marriage has a former husband or wife then living. Richard and Marcie’s marriage was void because Marcie was still married to another man when she married Richard. Although their marriage was void, an annulment proceeding was necessary to legally sever their relationship. An annulment proceeding is the proper manner to dissolve a void marriage and resolve other issues arising from the dissolution of the relationship.

What are the Putative Spouse Elements?

In Williams, the Nevada Supreme Court outlined the two elements of the putative spouse doctrine:

  1. A proper marriage ceremony was performed.
  2. One or both of the parties had a good-faith belief that there was no impediment to the marriage and the marriage was valid and proper.

The Nevada Supreme Court explained in part:

  • “Good faith" has been defined as an “honest and reasonable belief that the marriage was valid at the time of the ceremony." Good faith is presumed. The party asserting lack of good faith has the burden of proving bad faith. Whether the party acted in good faith is a question of fact.

In Williams, the Nevada Supreme Court concluded that “Marcie entered into the marriage in good faith. She therefore qualifies as a putative spouse."

Application of the Putative Spouse Doctrine in Williams

In Williams, the Nevada Supreme Court adopted the putative spouse doctrine for the first time stating:

  • We have not previously considered the putative spouse doctrine, but we are persuaded by the rationale of our sister states that public policy supports adopting the doctrine in Nevada. Fairness and equity favor recognizing putative spouses when parties enter into a marriage ceremony in good faith and without knowledge that there is a factual or legal impediment to their marriage. Nor does the doctrine conflict with Nevada’s policy in refusing to recognize common-law marriages or palimony suits. In the putative spouse doctrine, the parties have actually attempted to enter into a formal relationship with the solemnization of a marriage ceremony, a missing element in common-law marriages and palimony suits. As a majority of our sister states have recognized, the sanctity of marriage is not undermined, but rather enhanced, by the recognition of the putative spouse doctrine. We therefore adopt the doctrine in Nevada.

Nevada Annulment Property Rights

Nevada is a community property state. This means that in a divorce, the courts will equally divide community property and debt among spouses. A spouse may be entitled to keep their separate property and/or any property/debt owned before the marriage.  In some cases, community property laws may apply to annulments under the putative spouse doctrine.

What is Community Property?

During a divorce, couples typically divide the following property and debt:

  • Houses
  • Mortgages
  • Household items
  • Furniture
  • Bank accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Car loans
  • Credit card debt=
  • Tax debt
  • Pensions
  • Retirement accounts
  • A business owned by a spouse
  • Pets

Do Community Property Laws Apply Under the Putative Spouse Doctrine?

In Williams, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s:

  • Treatment of the parties’ property as quasi-community property.
  • Equal division of the joint property between the parties.

This means that community property laws apply under the putative spouse doctrine. The Nevada Supreme Court explained:

  • Community property states that recognize the putative spouse doctrine apply community property principles to the division of property, including determinations of what constitutes community and separate property. Since putative spouses believe themselves to be married, they are already under the assumption that community property laws would apply to a termination of their relationship.

Annulments can have a wide range of issues. Every relationship is unique. In certain cases, the putative spouse doctrine can provide protection for individuals and their property. An experienced lawyer can advise you of your rights and how the doctrine may apply to your situation.

Experienced Las Vegas Lawyers

Annulments are complex legal proceedings with lasting consequences. A voidable marriage may be difficult to prove. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate this difficult process. The team at Anthem Divorce Lawyers has the experience and knowledge necessary to handle your annulment. Contact us today for a consultation.