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Matt:

I went through a wedding ceremony with witnesses to the vows in California, but no marriage license was ever filed. So there is no record of my marriage anywhere in the county or Sacramento. I was able to change my name on my driver's license and Social Security number without showing proof of marriage. Nine years later, my partner and I had irreconcilable differences and went our separate ways. Someone told us that since we were never legally married, there is no need for a divorce. But another person said that since there were witnesses to our ceremony, we need to get a divorce. Who is right? I want to remarry, but I don't know whether I will need to show proof that I am not married.

-- Daphne, the net

Hmmmmm... I don't know whether this is good news or bad news, Daphne. According to the Team Matthew Alice cavalcade of lawyers, you never were married in the first place, at least as California defines it. You fulfilled about two and a half of the five necessities for a valid hitch-up. That's consent of both parties, issuance of a license, a legally recognized solemnization, authentication of the ceremony by the minister and witnesses, and a certificate of registry. You just finessed the paperwork, which of course is what the courts want most of all. You and Mr. Ex were, at best, what the state calls putative spouses. (You can almost hear the sneer, can't you?) You each believed you were legally married, acted as if you were legally married, told anybody who would listen that you were husband and wife, got nifty anniversary presents, had pet names, wore matching jogging suits -- did all that spousey stuff. Unfortunately, no paper. According to the California Family Code, that's all part of the deal. As a result, washing nine years' of socks and underwear only makes you a putative spouse, since CA doesn't recognize common-law marriage. I guess this leaves you free to become a blushing bride once again for the first time. When they ask if you've ever been married before, just say no.

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