This situation can come up any number of ways. 1) Two people get married. They apply for a marriage license. They don’t get it signed and returned to the proper office. Proper signature and return are requirements to finalize the divorce.

2) Two people get married. The Judge had his license revoked. Nobody knew about it until much later. What do we do now? He had no authority to conduct the ceremony.

3) Priest was defrocked before the wedding took place. Nobody knew about it until much later.

There is a statute you can turn to in Illinois. 750 ILCS 5/305).  The situation is known as “Putative Spouse”. It says that you can have the rights of a married person in the types of situations that I describe.

There are a few requirements to meet. You have to have gone through a marriage ceremony.  You then have to have cohabited with that person.  You have to have a good faith belief that you were married to that other person.

If you can prove these things, you will have the rights of a putative spouse.  The word ‘putative’ comes from the Latin word for ‘think’ or ‘believe’.  So, you think  or believe that you were legally married. Might be the difference between thinking or believing that you do or you don’t have certain rights to property.

But, your rights as a legal spouse end when you actually learn that you were not legally married. So, if you don’t have a good faith belief anymore that you are married, you may not have rights to property acquired after this.

It may be hard to know if everything is in order until you find out that it is not.

Sostock v. John REISS, Harmswood Stables North, Inc., and The Harmswood, Inc., 92 Ill.App.3d 200, First District, Fifth Division.

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