Following the recent death of Gary Coleman on May 28, 2010, Mr. Coleman’s ex-wife wants to be declared his current wife in Utah Court. Shannon Price and Gary Coleman divorced in 2008, but Ms. Price claims that she and and Mr. Coleman continued to live together as husband and wife until his death. She asks the Utah Courts to declare them “common law” married. She makes this request because she wishes to administer Mr. Coleman’s estate.
Utah is one of the few states that still allows a declaration of Common Law Marriage. The declaration must be made by the court within one year of the end of the relationship. On June 14th, a Utah judge will hear evidence to determine whether or not a common law marriage existed between Gary Coleman and Shannon Price.
Under Utah law, Ms. Price must prove that the parties:
* were of legal age and capable of giving consent;
* were legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage under Utah law;
* had cohabited;
* mutually assumed marital rights, duties, and obligations; and
* held themselves out as and had acquired a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife.
The stickler for Ms. Price is going to be the last of these. Utah courts are fairly rigorous about requiring the parties to show that they “held themselves out” to others as husband and wife and that they did so consistently. Because Gary Coleman and Shannon Price went through the effort of actually divorcing in 2008, it seems that it will be harder for Ms. Price to say that they allowed others to believe they were married. Also, Utah courts have required that the “holding out” be with the full consent and understanding of both parties- it cannot be one-sided. In other words, if Ms. Price never corrected people who assumed that she and Gary Coleman were still married, this is probably not enough. If Mr. Coleman did not also agree that they were holding themselves out to others as married and regularly act in that manner, Ms. Price will not prevail. Also, a few isolated instances of either of them holding themselves out as married is not sufficient. The “holding out” requirement envisions that the couple mutually allow others to believe that they are in fact married and that they do so consistently in almost all circumstances and not merely by omission.
Ms. Price has a high bar to reach and the legal analysis can be quite complicated and very factually driven. This situation has lots of public interest and so the judge here may take time to do a more thorough legal analysis of the current state of common law marriage in Utah. This would provide Utah divorce lawyers with a better guideline for Common Law Marriage cases in the future. We’ll keep you posted!