Marriage void for bigamy despite voidable first union

By Correy Stephenson

Dolan Media Newswires

BOSTON, MA--Even though a woman did not have a marriage license for her first wedding ceremony and the ceremony failed to meet statutory requirements, she failed to take any action to terminate it and therefore committed bigamy when she later married her husband, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled.

Prior to her marriage to her husband, the wife engaged in a wedding ceremony with another man. The parties did not obtain a marriage license as they only sought to comply with Islamic marriage requirements.

The wife divorced that husband in the manner required by Islamic law and never sought a judicial divorce or annulment.

When the wife and her second husband divorced after 12 years, he argued that their marriage was void based on the wife's bigamy and sought an annulment.

Reversing an order dismissing his complaint, the court agreed.

The wife's first marriage was merely voidable under North Carolina law because it would have been recognized as valid even though the parties did not have a marriage license and the ceremony failed to meet statutory requirements, the court said.

The wife and the first husband consented to take each other as husband and wife, voluntarily participated in the ceremony and publicly expressed their consent.

Because she never took any action to terminate that marriage, she was still married at the time of her marriage to her second husband.

"[T]hus any marriage between [the husband] and [the wife] was bigamous, and consequently void," the court said.

North Carolina Court of Appeals. Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa, No. COA11-209. Dec. 6, 2011. Lawyers USA No. 993-3441.

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Published: Mon, Jan 9, 2012