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In a contest between conflicting marriages under California law, once the first wife establishes that her marriage has not been dissolved, then the burden of persuasion shifts to the second wife to establish that her spouse's marriage to his first wife had been dissolved. Otherwise, the first wife is deemed to have established her status as the lawful wife.
Appellee first wife and appellant second wife both claimed to be the insured's widow and attempted to claim the proceeds of his life insurance. The insurance company filed an interpleader action to resolve the discrepancy. Appellee was married to the insured in 1946. Appellant was married to the insured in 1962. The district court found that appellee first wife was entitled to the proceeds from the insurance policy because appellant did not prove that appellee's marriage to the insured had ever been terminated by divorce or annulment. Appellant challenged the decision.
Under the circumstances, was the appellee first wife entitled to the proceeds of the insurance policy?
On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment. Appellee successfully made a showing that no petition for annulment or divorce had been filed, by either herself or the insured. Appellant failed to meet her burden of persuasion because she did not introduce credible evidence that the insured's first marriage had been terminated. Appellant asserted that if she was not the insured's legal widow, then as the insured's putative spouse she was entitled to half of the insurance proceeds. Appellant could not qualify as a putative spouse because, based upon the facts of the case, she did not have a good faith belief that her marriage was valid.