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La. C.C. art. 96 provides that: An absolutely null marriage nevertheless produces civil effects in favor of a party who contracted it in good faith for as long as that party remains in good faith. When the cause of the nullity is one party's prior undissolved marriage, the civil effects continue in favor of the other party, regardless of whether the latter remains in good faith, until the marriage is pronounced null or the latter party contracts a valid marriage. A marriage contracted by a party in good faith produces civil effects in favor of a child of the parties. A purported marriage between parties of the same sex does not produce any civil effects.
In February 1978, plaintiff Felix Carlos Alfonso initiated divorce proceedings against defendant, Lois Ann Gravois Alfonso by filing of a petition for divorce. In that petition, plaintiff alleged that he and defendant were married in April of 1970 in Honduras, that the parties voluntarily separated in December 1975, and that they had been living separate and apart since that time. A divorce was granted to the parties by judgment signed March 1978. The parties entered into a community property settlement, which was executed the next day. In June 1997, plaintiff filed a petition to rescind the community property settlement. In that petition, he alleged that they were never married, and therefore there was no community property regime between them. Defendant denied the allegations of the petition to rescind, and she filed a reconventional demand for attorney fees. Plaintiff testified that defendant knew that he was married at the time that they traveled to Honduras, and that he did not divorce his former wife until June of 1970. He introduced a document to reflect that no marriage certificate was issued to them, thus, the marriage certificate produced by defendant was a fraudulent document which she obtained at a later date. He did admit that he instituted divorce proceedings in which he averred that they had been married. The trial court denied plaintiff's petition to rescind the community property settlement. The judge further rendered judgment in favor of defendant for costs and for attorney fees. On appeal, plaintiff alleged that the trial court erred in finding that defendant was in good faith in her belief that they were legally married. He further argued that the trial court erred failing to annul the community property settlement agreement, because if there was no marriage, then there was no community to settle.
Did the trial court correctly denied of plaintiff’s petition to rescind the community property settlement?
The court affirmed a judgment that denied plaintiff husband's motion to rescind a community property settlement. The court ruled that although the marriage may have been a nullity given plaintiff's first marriage, that defendant was entitled pursuant to La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 96, to the civil effects of a marriage, as she believed in good faith that they were married. Moreover, the court found that it was appropriate for the judge to award attorney fees to defendant, and ordered further fees for defense of a frivolous appeal.