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In Re the Marriage of Jeffrey D. and Patricia L. Seaton. v. Patricia L. Seaton

November 8, 2011


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Matthew J. Gary, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 08FL08279)

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



California law provides, with limited exceptions, that an individual can only be married to one person at a time. (Family Code, § 2201.)*fn1 A bigamous marriage is void from the beginning. (Ibid.)

This case calls on us to determine whether Nevada law is the same as California law in this regard. We conclude that under both Nevada and California law, a bigamous marriage is void from its inception, even if it has not been declared void by a court.

Patricia L. Seaton appeals from a judgment nullifying her marriage with Jeffrey D. Seaton.*fn2 The marriage was nullified under section 2201 on the ground that Patricia was married to another man, Henry Marquez, when she purportedly married Jeffrey. The trial court also determined that Patricia was not a putative spouse under section 2251 because she did not believe in good faith that her marriage to Jeffrey was valid.

Patricia contends on appeal that (1) her marriage to Jeffrey should not have been nullified because her prior marriage to Henry was void under Nevada law due to her pre-existing marriage with Richard LaForm; (2) the trial court erred in denying her putative spouse claim, because Jeffrey believed in good faith that his marriage to Patricia was valid; and (3) there was no substantial evidence to support the trial court's finding that Patricia knew about an unfiled summons and petition for nullity of her marriage with Henry.

Patricia and Jeffrey's marriage should not have been nullified, because Patricia's prior marriage to Henry was void. As a result, it is not necessary to reach Patricia's other contentions. We will reverse the judgment.


Patricia married Richard in November 1973. After separating from Richard in January 1987, she dated Henry for several months. Patricia met Jeffrey in January 1988 and broke up with Henry in February 1988.

Patricia was a legal secretary and Jeffrey was a law student intern. Jeffrey was also married. He married Debra Meyer in January 1970. By March 1988, Jeffrey had separated from Meyer in order to pursue a relationship with Patricia.

Henry continued to send Patricia gifts and repeatedly came to her home and place of work. Patricia told Jeffrey about Henry's activities and asked Jeffrey to help her get a restraining order against Henry. Such an order was obtained in May 1988. Ten days later, Patricia drove to Nevada and married Henry, falsely stating in her marriage license application that her marriage to Richard had ended in April 1988.

According to Patricia's version of the elopement, when Henry was served with the restraining order, he called Patricia and threatened to come to her house, saying: "By the time I get there, you would probably call the cops, but I can take care of you before then." Rather than endanger her children, who were home at the time, Patricia agreed to meet with Henry. She brought her sister to the meeting. When they arrived, Henry "became very nice" and asked to take Patricia to dinner in Reno to talk about their relationship. Patricia agreed because, as she explained, Henry was "very good at talking." Patricia and Henry also brought Patricia's sister to Reno. They arrived in Reno in the early afternoon, ate at a buffet, and began drinking. Several shots of tequila later, they ended up at a wedding chapel where Patricia and Henry were married.

After spending the night in a hotel, they drove back to Sacramento early the next morning, Memorial Day. According to Patricia, when she got home, she immediately called several family law attorneys in Nevada. Despite the holiday, she managed to reach an attorney who advised her after a 40-minute conversation that there was no need to get an annulment because the marriage to Henry was void since she was already married to Richard. The attorney also advised her to "double-check" to make sure he was correct about the law. Patricia said that when she told Jeffrey about the elopement approximately one week later, they went to the law library at McGeorge School of Law to verify the legal advice she received from the Nevada attorney. ...

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