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In Re Marriage of Joseph S. and Tanya M. Cantarella. v. Tanya M. Cantarella

January 11, 2011

IN RE MARRIAGE OF JOSEPH S. AND TANYA M. CANTARELLA. JOSEPH S. CANTARELLA, APPELLANT,
v.
TANYA M. CANTARELLA, RESPONDENT.



(Super. Ct. No. 08D006783) Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, Robert Monarch, Judge. Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ikola, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

In this case, we consider whether registration of a marriage certificate was vital to the validity of a marriage under the Family Law Act (former Civil Code section 4000 et seq.).*fn1

In 1991, a judge conducted a marriage ceremony for Joseph S. Cantarella (husband) and Tanya M. Cantarella (wife). The marriage certificate, however, was twice rejected for registration due to a technical error on the document. After the second rejection, the parties decided not to resubmit the certificate for registration, possibly to avoid the tax consequences of marriage.*fn2 As a result, the 1991 marriage was never registered. Nine to 11 years later (between 2000 and 2002), the parties were married in a new ceremony.

In 2008, the parties dissolved the marriage. As part of the dissolution judgment, the family court ordered husband to pay wife spousal support for several years in accordance with an agreement between the parties.*fn3

Husband subsequently sought modification of the spousal support order. At the hearing on his order to show cause, the parties disagreed about how long they had been married. Husband argued the parties were married in 2000. But wife -- contrary to a filing she had made earlier in the dissolution proceeding -- claimed the parties were married in 1991. The court found the marriage was of long duration and therefore awarded wife permanent spousal support.

Husband appeals from the spousal support order.*fn4 We affirm, holding the 1991 marriage is valid even though the marriage certificate was never registered.

FACTS

In husband's application for modification of the spousal support order, he declared his income had decreased due to the poor economy. At the August 2009 hearing on the order to show cause, the court and the attorneys focused on husband's and wife's respective current incomes.

Later, at the end of the hearing, the court asked the parties' attorneys how long the parties had been married. Wife's counsel replied that in wife's view, the marriage had lasted eight years and four months (consistent with a marriage date of 2000). Wife corrected her counsel, stating the marriage took place in 1991. Husband disagreed and claimed the year of marriage was 2001. Wife's counsel then informed the court that the parties had a marriage license and ceremony in 1991, the license was submitted for registration but returned due to an error in the judge's address, and wife tried to have the error corrected. Husband countered the parties were "legally married" in 2002. Wife's counsel acknowledged that the parties "went through a second ceremony." The court asked husband whether, at the time of the 1991 ceremony, he believed the marriage was legal. Husband replied, "I want to say no." The court stated, "I don't believe you."

The court found (1) the marriage was a putative one between 1991 and the second "legal ceremony," and (2) the second ceremony occurred when the parties learned the original marriage was invalid and decided to "do it the right way." The court placed no termination date on spousal support, but stated this was "modifiable." The minute order of the hearing states, as to spousal support, that the court, "[b]ased upon [wife's] testimony," found "this is a putative marriage of long duration" and ordered husband to pay spousal support until either party's death, wife's remarriage, or further order of the court. But the court's written findings and order after the hearing included a finding (based on a checked box on a standard form) that the parties were married for 17 years, i.e., from 1991.

DISCUSSION

Husband contends the "court erred in finding a putative marriage of long duration where [wife] did not set forth any facts establishing a good faith belief in the existence of a valid marriage" in 1991. Wife counters the 1991 marriage is valid (not putative), arguing the parties "fully complied with all procedural requirements for ...


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