A partial or divided reputation of married defeats establishment of common law marriage.

Even after an 8 year relationship, a partial or divided reputation of marriage may be shown when the parties’ closest friends did not consider the parties married and the parties are not consistent in holding themselves out as married to the rest of the world. Such circumstances negate the establishment of the statutory requirement that the couple acquire a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife.

Rivet v. Hopie, 2020 App 21 (Filed February 13, 2020)

A couple live together but never had a marriage ceremony for 6 years and continued the relationship for 2 more years after separation until finally terminating the relationship.  Rivet petitioner the district court to recognize the relationship as a common law marriage.

¶8 The [trial] court then ruled and concluded that Rivet did not prove the elements of a common-law marriage by a preponderance of the evidence. The court later issued a memorandum decision finding that Rivet and Hoppie “cohabitated with one another, and assumed marital rights, duties, and obligations thus establishing the elements of Utah Code Ann. Section 30-1-4.5(1)(a)–(d).” But the court also found that the parties merely “held themselves out as being in a committed relationship . . . . [T]hey did not hold themselves out as husband and wife, nor did they acquire a uniform or general reputation as husband and wife as required by Utah Code Ann. Section 30-1-4.5(1)(e).” Accordingly, the court denied Rivet’s requested relief and dismissed her petition. Rivet appeals

The court of appeals stated that “It was … the petitioner, who bore the burden of proving the elements of a common-law marriage. See Hansen v. Hansen, 958 P.2d 931, 935 (Utah Ct. App. 1998) (stating that a claimant “must prove each of six different elements to establish” a common-law marriage).”

¶11 This [appellate] court has indicated that a partial or divided reputation of marriage is insufficient to meet the requirements of section 30-1-4.5(1)(e). See Hansen v. Hansen, 958 P.2d 931, 936 (Utah Ct. App. 1998). A partial or divided reputation of marriage may be shown when “the parties’ closest friends [do] not consider the [parties] married” and the parties are “not consistent in holding themselves out as married to the rest of the world.” Id. Such circumstances “negate[] the establishment . . . of the statutory requirement that the couple acquire[] a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife.” Id. (cleaned up).

Because the district court found the facts, it ruled that they negated the establishment of section 30-1-4.5(1)(e), that they acquired a uniform or general reputation as husband and wife:

7. During the course of the relationship the parties held themselves out as being in a committed relationship, however, they did not hold themselves out as husband and wife, nor did they acquire a uniform or general reputation as husband and wife . . .

12. . . . [Rivet’s witness] also stated . . . that neither party wore wedding rings . . . and that the parties never referred to each other as “husband” or “wife” but instead referred to each other by the first names. . . . [The witness] while testifying . . . claimed that they held themselves out as husband and wife. However, when pressed for examples of the parties holding themselves out as a married couple he could provide none, and admitted that his belief they were married was based merely on an assumption.

13. [Hoppie’s] witnesses each testified that they knew the parties were not married . . . [and n]ever observed either party refer to themselves as “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.”

14. [Another witness] testified that [Hoppie] never requested changing his status to married . . . or listing [Rivet] as a spouse. . . . [H]e did not believe [Hoppie] had a reputation of being a married individual. . . . [H]e did not believe the parties were married because of discussions they had with him in his office, and . . . [Hoppie] was always opposed to bringing [Rivet] onto other legal documents or referring to her as a spouse.

¶13 The unchallenged findings indicate at least some of the parties’ friends and family did not consider them to be married and the parties did not consistently represent themselves to be husband and wife. Those facts negate the establishment of the statutory requirements under Hansen. Accordingly, the unchallenged findings adequately support the district court’s conclusion that Rivet “failed to establish a common-law marriage under Utah Code Ann. Section 30-1-4.5.” Therefore, the Rivet v. Hoppie 20181018-CA 8 2020 UT App 21 district court accurately applied the law in denying Rivet’s petition.

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