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The existence of a common-law marriage vel non is intrinsically a fact-intensive inquiry. The required showings are that (1) the parties had the capacity to marry; (2) the parties seriously intended to enter into a mutual husband-wife relationship; and (3) the parties' conduct was of such a character so as to lead to a belief in the community that they were married.
Plaintiff Angela Luis filed for divorce in 2013, alleging that she and defendant, Kevin Gaugler, although not formally wed, were married at common law based on their intentions and conduct over the course of their twenty-three-year relationship. Kevin filed a motion to dismiss Angela’s complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Family Court Rules of Procedure for Domestic Relations, asserting that he and Angela were never married. The trial justice denied Kevin’s motion to dismiss, granted Angela's request for a divorce, and divided the relevant property largely equally between the parties. The trial justice ruled that there was clear and convincing evidence that Angela and Kevin were married at common law. Kevin appealed.
Did the trial justice err in finding that the parties were married at common law?
The court held that the trial justice erred in finding that the parties were married at common law because defendant did not name plaintiff as his wife in his will; even though he designated her as the primary beneficiary on his 401(k) plan, he labeled her as his fiancée; plaintiff repeatedly declared herself to be single or head of household, under penalty of perjury, on her tax return forms; the parties never filed joint tax returns; plaintiff characterized herself as single on her adult child's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork; the parties labeled themselves as married when it benefited them, such as on defendant's health insurance paperwork, and refrained from doing so when it did not, such as on the adult child's FAFSA paperwork; and the parties did not have a mutual and present intent to be married at common law.