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According to Ohio law, there are major conceptual differences between void and voidable marriages. A voidable marriage is one which is valid when entered and which remains valid until either party secures a lawful court order dissolving the marital relationship. Conversely, a void marriage is invalid from its inception, and the parties thereto may simply separate without benefit of a court order of divorce or annulment. The policy of Ohio is to sustain marriages where they are not incestuous, polygamous, shocking to good morals, unalterably opposed to a well-defined public policy, or prohibited. Thus, Ohio appears to label a defective marriage voidable rather than void, unless such a label is against policy considerations.
As a result of her first husband's death, Edwina VanTyle became the sole owner of the family farm located in Ohio County and Switzerland County, Indiana. On June 30, 1994, armed with a marriage license obtained from the clerk of the circuit court in Ohio County, Indiana, Edwina and Charles McCardle, both residents of Indiana, traveled across state lines and were ostensibly married in the state of Ohio. The Reverend Donald S. Campbell performed the wedding ceremony and filled out the marriage certificate. Although Rev. Campbell was apparently authorized by his church to solemnize marriages in the state of Ohio, no marriage license was issued by the state of Ohio. Further, no ceremony took place in the state of Indiana. On July 1, 1994, the clerk of the circuit court in Ohio County, Indiana filed and recorded the marriage license and certificate. Shortly thereafter, in August 1994, Edwina executed a warranty deed transferring ownership of the farm to Charles McCardle and herself as husband and wife. On July 26, 2004, Edwina died intestate. In December 2004, Edwina's two daughters and one son from her first marriage -- Emma McPeek, Brenda Allen, and Caroll VanTyle (referred to collectively as "McPeek") -- filed a complaint for declaratory judgment. In the complaint McPeek contended that the marriage between her mother and McCardle was void, and therefore she and her siblings were the proper owners of one-half the farm, which had been in the family for three generations. McPeek also filed a motion for summary judgment. McCardle responded with a motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment action, contending McPeek was not a party to the marriage and therefore lacked standing to challenge its validity. McCardle also filed a motion seeking attorney fees, contending McPeek's complaint was frivolous and brought in bad faith. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. The trial court agreed that McPeek lacked standing. However, the trial court concluded that the marriage was voidable under Indiana law and the weight of legal authority indicated that such marriages may not be attacked after the death of one of the parties. McPeek appealed the dismissal of her complaint, and McCardle cross-appealed the denial of his request for attorney fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
May a marriage solemnized in another state in violation of that state's law be recognized as valid in this state if the marriage complies with this state's law?
The court held that the Ohio marriage, although defective, was valid from its inception under Ohio law and remained so at least until the decedent's death because the parties did not seek dissolution. Before and after their marriage, Indiana was the parties' domicile, and they owned real and personal property in Indiana. Any interest Ohio had in the marriage was overcome by the more substantial interest Indiana had in recognizing the marriage of the parties who anticipated that their marriage was valid. The court measured the marriage against Indiana's solemnization provisions and found that the parties complied with Ind. Code §§ 31-11-4-14, 31-11-4-13, 31-11-6-1(1), and 31-11-4-16 in obtaining and filing their Indiana marriage license and certificate with the county clerk. There was no evidence that the parties were not married in Ohio with the intent to evade Indiana law, as proscribed by Ind. Code § 31-11-8-6. Because the marriage would have been valid if solemnized in Indiana, the court concluded that it would recognize the marriage as valid even if the marriage ceremony took place in Ohio and did not comply with Ohio's law or public policy.