You have asked whether Michigan would recognize an otherwise void marriage which would
be considered a putative marriage in Illinois. For the following reasons, Michigan
would not recognize such a marriage.
Ralph T~ ("Ralph') died in Michigan on November 16, 1984. He was married to Veline
M~ ('Veline') on November 4, 1939 in Warrentown, Georgia. A search of records in all
jurisdictions in which Ralph was known to have resided thereafter disclosed no divorce.
Ralph married Obelia R~ T~ ('Obelia') on September 10, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois.
Ralph left Obelia in 1958, and they have not cohabited since then. You have determined
that Obelia married Ralph in good faith, not knowing that he was still married to
Veline. Obelia claims to have learned of Ralph's continuing marriage to Veline only
after Ralph's death.
You correctly state that Michigan law applies, because Ralph was domiciled in Michigan
when he died. You also correctly state that, if Illinois law were applicable, Illinois
courts would recognize Obelia as Ralph's putative spouse. See Ill. Rev. Stat. Ch. 40, ~305. Even so, under Illinois law 'rights acquired by a putative
spouse do not supersede the rights of the legal spouse ....
Id. We know if no legal basis for finding Obelia's rights to be superior to those
of Veline, Ralph's legal widow.
More important, Michigan courts would not recognize Obelia's marriage to Ralph. Pursuant
to Mich. Comp. L. Ann. §551.5, a marriage to one whose marriage to another has not
been dissolved is void. The fact that Obelia and Ralph's marriage ceremony was celebrated
in Illinois does not change this result. As we pointed out to you in an earlier memorandum,
which is bound into Ralph's claims folder (B~ James E.., ~ GC V (Abrams) (July 12,
1983), at p. 6), Illinois's putative spouse provision does not create a legal marriage,
it merely permits a putative spouse, in the interests of justice, to acquire rights
in property. As we stated in Brighum, "property rights acquired by a putative spouse
in Illinois have no extraterritorial effect .... ' Id.
We did not find any provision of Michigan law analogous to Illinois's putative spouse
provision. Although we did find two cases in which Michigan courts vested a "putative
spouse' with property rights, both cases are readily distinguishable from this one.
v. Walker, 47 N.W.2d 633 (Mich. 1951), the court held valid a ceremonial marriage where the
putative wife was innocent of knowledge of her husband's prior marriage, but its ruling
was limited to the issue of property rights as between the putative husband and wife.
For similar reasons, in Stevenson. City of Detroit, 201N.W.2d 688 (Mich. App. 1972),
the court awarded decedent's retirement benefits to the putative widow who had married
decedent in good faith, not knowing he had not yet divorced his first wife. The putative
widow had borne decedent two children and lived with him until his death. The court's
narrow holding was meant to further the intent of the retirement plan that widows
receive benefits. The competing beneficiary was decedent's brother. As in Walker,
there was no competing widow. 1_/
Michigan courts would not recognize Obelia as Ralph's widow.
1_/ Where there is a competing widow, as there is here, the 'Michigan Supreme Court
has not recognized rights of a subsequent spouse. In Watts v. General Motors Corp., 14 N.W.2d 68 (Mich. l944), the court recognized as decedent's widow the first wife
whose marriage never had been dissolved even though decedent had entered into a second
(common law) marriage which, but for the first wife, would have been valid.