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When you can’t prove it didn’t happen

David Donovan//February 24, 2014//

When you can’t prove it didn’t happen

David Donovan//February 24, 2014//

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The North Carolina Court of Appeals has some good news for bigamists. In an unpublished decision, the court set a vertiginously high bar for anyone trying to annul a marriage because their purported spouse was already legally married.

Olivia Scott asked a Union County court to annul her marriage to Maurice Murray after learning Murray had previously been married to Alice Bowen. Both parties searched for a divorce decree in Onslow County but couldn’t find one. Murray suggested that the clerk’s office had no divorce record because it was destroyed by a flood or fire.

Murray couldn’t produce any other proof of divorce, and the court granted the annulment. But the Court of Appeals reversed, saying that burden of proof was wrong. State law presumes marriages are valid, so Scott had to prove that Murray was a bigamist—that he never obtained a valid divorce anywhere.

That puts spouses in the tricky position of having to prove a negative. How exactly do you prove that someone never obtained a divorce? It’s not like there’s a searchable divorce database. We put the question to divorce law expert Lisa Angel of Rosen Law, and she was as stumped as we were.

“The court didn’t really outline what would be sufficient, that’s the problem,” Angel said. “To me, this is a burden of proof she could have never achieved. Other than checking the county where you know your spouse lived, what else could you possibly do?”

If anyone has any clever ideas, be sure to let us know.

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