"Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get married"

Mary Zambreno Iowa Family Law Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa

Posted on 07/08/2014 at 08:20 AM by Mary Zambreno

Co-authored with Jesse R. Johnston

Would Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell's relationship look different in Iowa than it does in California? The famous celebrity pair have been together for more than thirty years and have raised three children together  but have never gone through a formal marriage ceremony. Based upon Iowa's long-standing recognition of common law marriages for well over a century, Goldie and Kurt may not need that formal marriage ceremony because they may already be married under Iowa law. In a recent Iowa Court of Appeals case, In re the marriage of Derryberry, the requirements for a common law marriage were reassessed when Diane Derryberry sought to collect alimony payment from her former husband, Bob Derryberry. Bob and Diane had been ceremonially married twice (in 1980 and again in 1995), and twice divorced (in 1989 and again in 1999). In 2001, Bob and Diane started dating again, and Diane moved back in with Bob in 2003 after he suffered a heart attack. However, in 2010, the couple separated for a third time, and Diane filed a petition to dissolve the common law marriage in 2011.

The district court ruled that the parties had entered into a common law marriage and awarded Diane $1300 per month in alimony. Both parties appealed: Bob arguing that Diane did not establish the elements of a common law marriage, and Diane arguing that that she is entitled to a greater alimony and property award along with attorney fees. In Iowa, there are three elements of common law marriage that must be established: (1) a present intent and agreement by both parties to be married, (2) continuous cohabitation, and (3) public declaration that the couple was husband and wife.

All three of these elements must be satisfied in order for a common law marriage to be legally recognized. Regarding the first element, the Court of Appeals determined that there did not appear to be a present intent to be married. The evidence suggested that they were married and divorced twice before but that Bob never intended to re-enter into a marriage a third time, even though Diane claimed that she did, and that the fluctuating status of their relationship was, from the beginning, largely based on personal convenience or benefit, which is inconsistent with the concept of marriage.The Court wrote that cohabitation is circumstantial evidence a common law marriage exists, but it cannot establish a common law marriage standing alone. Bob and Diane treated each other more as housemates and not intimate partners. Cohabitation must be tied with the intent and agreement to be married. Finally, the court evaluated the couple's public declaration of marriage, which need not be completely consistent with marriage in every instance: a substantial holding out to the public is sufficient. A holding out can be shown through joint tax returns, joint checking account statements, or insurance policies.

The documentation in this case could not support a public declaration for Bob and Diane: they did not file their tax returns as married persons and Bob maintained a single status on health forms and house listings. Finding that the couple did not have a common law marriage, the Court of Appeals overturned the district court's ruling, which meant no alimony for Diane.  

For any questions regarding alimony or divorce in general please contact Mary Zambreno

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed. 

- Mary Zambreno

Categories: Mary Zambreno, Family Law


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