“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
This proverb is an encouragement to not give up too easily. Of course if you keep trying, persistence will pay off in the end.
To many, when it comes to marriage this proverb has proven true. Keep marrying until you find the right person.
But what happens if you marry, then marry again without a legal divorce? Well, that’s called bigamy, and yes, it is illegal in every state.
Most think that bigamy is left for television shows like HBO’s Big Love. Most feel that one spouse is plenty to deal with. Would you be surprised to learn that The Probate Pro periodically has clients that have entered into bigamous relationships?
The most common example is what The Probate Pro has coined “accidental bigamy.” Imagine a scenario in which the husband and wife begin the divorce process with one of the parties filing the divorce proceeding. The other assumes that the process has continued to a divorce judgment, but for some reason the one changed their mind and never finished the process. The two don’t speak and one of them leaves the relationship with an assumption that the divorce has occurred.
Remember, there is no central database for marriage and divorce records. Each state maintains the records and it is a difficult process to peruse each possible state to determine whether a divorce ever actually occurred.
Or, the client that has been separated for so long from their spouse that they never even bother to go through the divorce process. The client falls in love and viola, marries again.
There are some wild and often unfair probate results that can occur as a result of bigamy. Here is an example. Many years ago, John was married to Lisa. John and Lisa’s relationship lasted only 3 months and Lisa told John that she had divorced him. Eventually, John gets re-married to Sara and they remain married for 25 years until Sara’s death.
Unbeknownst to both of them, John had never actually been divorced from his wife Lisa.
Sara dies with no Will and has 2 children. After Sara’s death, John assumes that he will inherit Sara’s entire estate. Somehow, Sara’s children become aware that John and his previous wife may not have ever divorced. The children check around and confirm that the divorce proceeding began but never resulted in a divorce judgment.
So, should a person that accidentally was living in a bigamous relationship inherit from his wife of 25 years?
Michigan’s probate statute bars John from inheriting as a surviving spouse of Jane. A surviving spouse does not include a “An individual who, at the time of the decedent’s death, is living in a bigamous relationship with another individual.”
Is this fair? Probably not. Comedian Bob Hope once quipped “Bigamy is the only crime where two rites make a wrong.”