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Law School Case Brief

Nelson v. Marshall - 869 S.W.2d 132 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993)


As part of Missouri's laws regulating marriage, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 451.040.1 requires a marriage license for a marriage to be considered valid. The statute contains the following language: previous to any marriage in this state, a license for that purpose shall be obtained from the officer authorized to issue the same, and no marriage hereafter contracted shall be recognized as valid unless the license has been previously obtained, and unless the marriage is solemnized by a person authorized by law to solemnize marriages. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 451.040 (1986).


At the time the wife, Linda Nelson, and the decedent, Samuel Marshall, had a ceremonial marriage, they had not applied for a marriage license. The following day, Marshall died, negating their opportunity to obtain a license. Following the instigation of probate proceedings, in which respondents declared that Marshall had no surviving spouse, Nelson brought suit to have her marriage declared valid, and to be declared Marshall's widow. The trial court ruled that there was no valid marriage, and the wife appealed. 


Was there a valid marriage between Nelson and Marshall where a ceremonial marriage occurred without application for or issuance of a marriage license, and the "groom" died the following day, negating any opportunity for successful application or issuance of a marriage license?




The court affirmed; the legislature implemented solemnization and license requirements to eliminate common-law marriages in Missouri. The plain language of the statute required the parties to obtain a marriage license for a valid marriage contract; therefore, because no marriage certificate was ever issued, the trial court did not erroneously declare the law, and Nelson and Marshall were not married.

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