In late June, singer-songwriter Margo Rey filed for divorce in Los Angeles from comedian Ron White (known as “Tater Salad”), claiming that although they were married in California in 2013, they were common-law married in Texas in 2008. White became mega-famous in 2000 as a founding member of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” a group that included Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy. White has gone on to make cameo appearances in movies such as “Sex and the City II” and “Horrible Bosses.” In late July, White responded to Rey’s filing by contending that not only were they not common law married, they weren’t legally married, either, because they never obtained a marriage license.
The date of their marriage (or the existence of the marriage itself) has huge ramifications for Rey. In California, all income, assets (and liabilities) acquired during the marriage are presumed to be community property. In addition, the duration of spousal support can be dependent on the length of the marriage. Rey has been public about her second battle with breast cancer, and she may be asserting an earlier marriage date to solidify her rights to assets or support.
California does not provide for common law marriages, but it does recognize the validity of those marriages if they are valid under the law of the jurisdiction where they were contracted. Family Code §308. A valid common law marriage in another state that is dissolved in California may give that party all the rights available under the California Family Code. However, Rey must first prove that she meets the requirements for contracting a valid common law marriage in Texas. A “brief sojourn” into a state that recognizes common law marriage will not be sufficient to establish a marriage in California. See Etienne v. DKM Enterprises, Inc. (1982) 136 Cal.App.3d 487 (Appellate court found that a Husband and Wife who lived together in California for 8 years and visited Texas a number of times did not establish a common law marriage).
Rey may also have to assert that she is White’s “putative spouse” using either her Texas “common law marriage” or her California wedding as grounds for this claim. Family Code §2251 provides that if a determination is made that a marriage is void or voidable and the court finds that either party or both parties believed in good faith that the marriage was valid, the court shall assign the status of a putative spouse to one or both parties. If California finds a spouse is a “putative spouse,” then that person gets the rights of a spouse.
Tater Salad may be one of the top grossing comedians, but he may have to cut down on the scotch and cigars on stage if Rey is successful in her attempt to establish a marriage existed between the two of them.
Sarah Van Voorhis and Ariel Sosna, both Certified Family Law Specialists, are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna. Follow them on Twitter at @VanVoorhisSosna.