Void, Voidable and Valid Marriages – How These Impact a San Diego Divorce



We often blog about the importance of social networking sites as tools in family law cases. Facebook is an invaluable resource for spouses, parents, and family law attorneys to use in order to dig up information on the opposing party in a particular case. Recently, Facebook has surfaced on the family law radar in a new and unexpected way. One of Facebook’s well-known features is its ability to suggest family members, acquaintances, or friends that the user may want to “add as a friend” on his or her Facebook page. This friend suggestion tool alerted Alan Leighton O’Neill’s wife that her husband was married to another woman. O’Neill’s first wife clicked on the Facebook page of his second wife and saw her husband in a wedding photo with another woman. As a result of the friend suggestion tool, felony bigamy charges have been filed against O’Neill.

In San Diego, any married person who marries any other person is guilty of bigamy. Alan Leighton Fulk married his first wife on April 16, 2001. In December of 2011, he petitioned the court to change his name to Alan Leighton O’Neill. This tactic was used in order to accomplish his second marriage only five days later.

Although any married person who marries any other person is guilty of bigamy, various defenses are available to the bigamist. A good-faith belief that the bigamist obtained a divorce or dissolution of the first marriage is a possible defense to bigamy charges. Whether or not the bigamist escapes felony prosecution, bigamy has many family law-related implications.

Under California family law, a subsequent marriage during the life of a former spouse, with a person other than the former spouse, is void unless: (1) the former marriage was dissolved or annulled before the subsequent marriage date or (2) the former spouse is (a) absent and not known to be living to the bigamist for five consecutive years immediately preceding the subsequent marriage or (b) is generally believed to be dead by the bigamist at the time of the subsequent marriage.

There are many legal implications of a void or voidable marriage. A void marriage is invalid at its inception. There is no legal recognition of a void marriage’s existence. In addition to bigamy, a marriage may be declared void because one of the parties is a minor, fraud, force, physical incapacity, mental illness or incest. These marriages can be attacked at any time by anyone who has an interest in the marriage. Further, a void marriage cannot be ratified even after the condition voiding it has dissipated. For the purposes of divorce, the parties involved in a void marriage are unable to claim any of the marital rights such as an interest in community property or spousal support available to a party of a valid marriage.

Void marriages are distinguishable from voidable marriages. A voidable marriage is valid for all civil purposes between the parties; it only becomes invalid if it is declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction. It is neither valid nor void and can only be attacked by the parties to the marriage. Unlike void marriages, a voidable marriage may be ratified or validated by the conduct of one or both parties after the condition creating its voidability has dissipated. Interestingly, a voidable marriage may not be attacked after death. Therefore once one of the parties dies, the other stands to inherit from him or her as a standard spouse.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding custody. San Diego Family Law Attorney Nancy J. Bickford is the only board-certified divorce lawyer representing clients in San Diego who also holds an MBA and a CPA. Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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