Ms. Charlene L~ (SSN ~) applied for mother's benefits based on the record of her deceased
husband, Reid Derek L~ (SSN ~). You have asked for advice as to whether the State
of Missouri would recognize a marriage between Charlene L~ and Reid Derek L~ which
occurred on June 28, 1986, when the divorce of Ms. L~ from her previous husband (Henry
W~) was not finalized until July 8, 1986.
The information you provided indicates that Ms. L~ previously applied for benefits
on her deceased husband's record, Reid Derek L~, on December 23, 2002. Her application
was denied for failure to provide proof of divorce from her previous husband, Henry
Ms. L~ applied again on May 30, 2003. A marriage certificate indicates that Charlene
W~ and Reid Derek L~ were married on June 28, 1986. A birth certificate indicates
that they had a child together. Court records indicate that the dissolution of marriage
between Charlene W~ (L~) and Henry W~ was entered on July 8, 1986, or 10 days after
Ms. L~'s subsequent marriage to Reid Derek L~.
Missouri statutes provide in relevant part:
1. A judgment or dissolution of marriage is final when entered, subject to the right
of appeal. An appeal from a dissolution that does not challenge the finding that the
marriage is irretrievably broken does not delay the finality of that provision of
the judgment which dissolves the marriage beyond the time for appealing from that
provision, so that either of the parties may remarry pending appeal.
See Mo. Ann. Stat. § 452.360.1. Thus, if neither party appeals the finding that the marriage
was "irretrievably broken," the divorce is final when entered and both parties are
free to marry.
In James v. James, 45 S.W. 3d 458, 460 (Mo. App. S.D. 2001) (citing Dunafon v. Dunafon, 800 S.W. 2d 483, 484 (Mo. App. W.D. 1990)), the court held that a judgment granting
a dissolution of marriage was final when entered. In Stamatiou v. El Greco Studios, Inc., 898 S.W. 2d 571, 575 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995), the court stated: "In enacting
§ 452.360.1 the legislature intended that the part of the decree dissolving the marriage
would become final by operation of law if it were not appealed, thereby allowing the
parties to remarry even if other matters in the dissolution were appealed." See also Stratman v. Stratman, 948 S.W. 2d 230, 234 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997). From the case law, it is clear that Missouri
courts have interpreted the statute to allow an individual to remarry when neither
party has contested the finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken because
the judgment is then final.
In Ms. L~'s (W~'s) case, although apparently neither party contested the finding that
the marriage was irretrievably broken, Ms. L~'s second marriage occurred prior to
the filing of the decree dissolving her first marriage to Henry W~. Thus, the judgment
was not final. In fact, it had not even been filed prior to Ms. L~'s second marriage.
Missouri case law has consistently held that a second marriage is presumed to be valid.
See Chervitz v. Bi-State Development Agency, 11 S. W. 3d 714 (Mo. App. E.D. 2000); Estate of Lucas v. Lucas, 909 S.W. 2d 365, 369 (Mo. App. S.D. 1995); Sumners v. Sumners, 645 S.W. 2d 205 (Mo. App. S.D. 1983); Carr v. Carr, 232 S. W. 2d 488, 489 (Mo. 1950). A second or subsequent marriage will not be declared
invalid except upon clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. See Chervitz, 11 S. W. 3d at 717; Lucas, 909 S. W. 2d at 369; Enlow v. Fire Protection Systems, Inc., 803 S. W. 2d 148, 150 (Mo. App. E.D. 1991); Carr, 232 S. W. 2d at 489 (presumption
of the validity of the last marriage may be repelled only by the most cogent and satisfactory
evidence). Thus, the question in this case, is whether there is clear, cogent, convincing,
and satisfactory evidence to overcome the Missouri presumption that Ms. L~'s second
marriage is valid. We believe it is reasonable to conclude that a Missouri court would
find that there is clear, cogent, convincing, and satisfactory to overcome the presumption
There is no case law directly on point, however, the Missouri Supreme Court stated
in State v. Byrd, 676 S. W. 2d 494, 501 (Mo. 1984), that "defendant's admission that his second marriage
was invalid was sufficient to overcome the presumption of its validity. That statement
goes beyond the assertion that he did not obtain a divorce from his first wife and
yields the conclusion that neither party to that marriage obtained a divorce prior
to the second marriage." Id. at 501.
In this case, it is clear that the judgment and decree of dissolution of marriage
was entered on July 8, 1986, which was ten days after the Marriage license for Charlene
W~ (L~) and Reid Derek L~. Although there are strong presumptions in favor of the
validity of a second marriage, on the facts presented, it is reasonable to conclude
that the marriage between Ms. L~ and Mr. L~ would be found invalid under Missouri
Frank V. S~
Region Chief Counsel, Region VII
Jeffrey J. L~
Assistant Regional Counsel