Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon appeared in Nashville’s probate court on May 11, 2012 to address allegations against her father, John, for bigamy. Witherspoon informed the judge in an emergency hearing that her father should be placed under a conservatorship due to his alcoholism and on-set dementia. The judge has yet to rule in this matter but has sealed the case against media/public access in interest of the parties’ privacy.
Witherspoon’s parents separated in 1996; however, the couple never officially divorced. As a result, Witherspoon’s mother, Betty, filed a lawsuit claiming that her husband recently married another woman. However, Betty claims that he was not mentally stable enough to remember the marriage and denies entering into it. In addition, Betty has filed a restraining order/injunction against the purported “new wife” which prohibits her from using the last name of “Witherspoon”.
According to California marriage laws, a married person is prohibited from marrying any other person besides his or her spouse. If a married person enters into another marriage with a person besides his or her spouse, he or she may face criminal bigamy charges. Under bigamy prohibitions, John’s subsequent marriage would be void. Betty is requesting that the alleged marriage between John and his new wife be annulled.
As we have previously blogged, determining whether a couple has in fact separated is a question of fact. The court will take into consideration factors such as whether: the couple continues to purport to be married, the spouses live separate and apart, either spouse engages in romantic conduct, either spouse continues to perform martial duties, finances are commingled, and the couple attend social gatherings together.
Betty Witherspoon claims that she is still in love with her husband and that she did not want to file for divorce. Additionally, she claims she has regular contact with her husband. However, John’s new wife has moved in with him and allegedly convinced him to change his will. Despite this evidence that the couple had not separated in 1996, a court will likely determine that they have considering the strong evidence that John intended the marriage to be over when he began residing with another woman and even attempted to bring her to social gatherings like Reese’s wedding.
A debate has surfaced as to whether Betty is attempting to take advantage of her husband considering his diminished mental state and have access to his estate. Others argue that his new wife is influencing him and exploiting his addiction and alleged mental incapacity. However, the judge will determine whether it is in his best interest to be under conservatorship or if he can adequately protect himself and his financial assets.
Please contact us if you have questions regarding legal separation or divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.