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Paperwork nightmare - the marriage that never happened

I was contacted by a young woman with a problem, and I don't know what advice to offer. I'm looking for help with this one.




Sailor wants to marry his pregnant girlfriend. He has been separated from his wife for more than 2 years (she cheated on him while he was deployed). They started the paperwork for the divorce, but it stalled when he was deployed again.


He gathered the old paperwork, finished it, and submitted it to the courts, who told him he needed a certified copy of the original marriage certificate. But when he went to get it  from the county/state, (he was still in the same state/county as he was when the original marriage took place), he was told that after an extensive search, there was NO record of their marriage. He was told that he was not legally married, as far as the state is concerned.


So, he married his girlfriend (and made sure their marriage was properly recorded with the state), and went to register her with DEERS. They refused, asking for his divorce decree from the ex they have on record. He explained the situation, but they insist that because she is on DEERS, he must have had a legal marriage somewhere, and showed that proof.  There is no copy of that certificate in his records.


They have offered the Navy a letter from the state saying that there is no record of the marriage, but it was not accepted.


All they can think of is that they showed the Navy the officiant-signed license after the ceremony, but forgot to turn it in to register it with the state.


She is 6 mos pregnant, and has no medical coverage, and the Navy won't recognize her as his wife because he has a wife on record who is still receiving benefits. But she is NOT his wife, according to the state.


The ex won't help, because if her original marriage is invalid, she loses all of her benefits.


What can he do?

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That is a new one to me!  Recommend that young Sailor go to the JAG and ask for adivse.

He needs to go see a lawyer right away - one who is familiar with the marriage laws of the state where he was supposedly married.

What were the terms of his divorce?  Did he agreed to alimony?  Child support (if there were any)? Did he go see a lawyer about his divorce?

It sound like he tried to do the divorce himself. His second marriage may or may not be valid. I would assumed he was married but his first marriage was not recorded.

His first wife can be uncooperative but a lawyer will be able to straighten it and get the necessary paperwork to satisfy the Navy's requirements to get the benefits for his second wife.

Every state has different laws regarding marriage and divorce.
I'm worried that if they decide the first wife received fraudulent benefits, there could be a world of hurt for him.
Good point!  That young Sailor could be required to pay back all that BAH plus any medical care that women has gotten.

If a marriage is not recorded within a time-frame (60 days in the state where it happened) the license is void and the marriage never happened in the eyes of the law. Therefore no divorce is necessary. You can't divorce someone you were never married to. His divorce petition was denied because there was no marriage.


The state where the wedding took place has already ruled that there was no marriage, and the state does not recognize common-law marriage. The Navy refused to accept the state recorder's statement that there was no marriage.


There were no legal agreements between him and the ex (girlfriend?), only a separation. There are no children. She is still receiving housing and DEERS.


The problem is how to convince to the Navy that the woman they have registered as his wife was never legally married to him. How do you prove a negative?

I will say it again that young Sailor needs to talk to a JAG
That is the advice I passed on. Hopefully this gets straightened out.

It seems like you could do a records check and find out which state the marriage was filed in. 

One thing for sure, is it isn't a "common law" marriage.  Every service, except the Navy makes it easy to file for a common law marriage.  For the Navy, it is so hard to get it filed and put into DEERS that most sailors end up going to the Justice of the Peace and just get married instead of filling the countless paperwork saying it's "Common law".


 Just because you got married in one state doesn't mean that you file the marriage in that state.  You can pull a license in Texas and get married in Florida if you want.  So the license could have been anywhere. 

A LICENSE PURCHASED IN ANY TEXAS COUNTY CAN BE USED IN THE STATE OF TEXAS AND ANY OTHER STATE OR COUNTRY THAT WILL ACCEPT IT. (Including: ceremony performed on an aircraft, boat or ship traveling in the US or international territory.)


The only reason I'm using Texas is I just looked this up for a depper recently...


The sailor recieved his first marriage certificate and was married in North Carolina the first time, attempted to get a divorce in North Carolina, still lives in that state, and married his new wife there. Everything was done in one state.


Further investigation has found that the JP they used was fired soon after the sailor's first wedding for not filing  the paperwork for the marriages he presided over. The sailor used a copy of the signed marriage license to get the first "wife" on DEERS (somehow I don't think that Navy clerk was supposed to accept it, but it was enough, apparently), but the official copy never made it to the state.


That means there are other couples out there who think they are legally married, but are not. I bet there have been a few hasty "second ceremonies" among them.

When my husband added me on to DEERS, they didn't like our state's version of the certified marriage license (it's a plain piece of paper with the state's seal punched into it) so we had to show them the signed marriage license in order to get me added. And then they decided to scan in the copy of our "certificate of marriage" from our church was has no legal bearing, it's just a church document into their records. I know several wives who were able to get added into DEERS just using the signed marriage license the day after their wedding, which I know they are not supposed to do but it seems like it's a common error!

The young woman in question finally got a resolution to her problem. After going to JAG for help, the Navy declared the marriage invalid. They decided not to go after the sailor for repayment, but are going after the ex-wife for repayment of benefits recieved after the separation.

I guess there is some justice in this world.


Oh, and she had a healthy baby boy.


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