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Volk v. Vecchi

Volk v. Vecchi, 2020 UT App 77 (Pohlman, J.)

Family

A man and a woman lived together in a romantic relationship from 1999 till 2015. They had two children and agreed that the woman should stay home with the children while the man pursued his career. The two jointly purchased four properties in three different states, obtained joint car loans and credit cards, and shared in all income and debt. At a bench trial, a district court determined that they had established a common law marriage for the time that they resided in Utah. The man (appellant) appealed the district court’s finding that he and the woman (appellee) had established a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife. On appeal, he also argued that the district court erred when it failed to order that the parties equally share costs of a custody evaluation. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s determination, holding:

  • A couple’s acquired reputation for being married may be consistent in a community despite some isolated awareness that the couple is not legally married. Two parties enter into a common law marriage when, among other things, they hold themselves out as husband and wife and acquire a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife and the relationship arises between two consenting parties. Appellee testified that she regularly referred to appellant as her husband, that she considered them to be married, that she introduced appellant as her husband to third parties, that they informed lenders that they were married, and that the two presented as being married. Neighbors and acquaintances also testified that the two presented as a normal married couple and never assumed the two were not married. A few witnesses—a longtime friend, a representative of an employer, and one mutual acquaintance—testifying that they knew the parties were not legally married does not constitute a divided rather than uniform reputation as husband and wife. A reputation is a collective perception or estimation by the public or a community. A general reputation is not undone by an awareness of the few.
  • The trial court’s determination regarding consent was not an abuse of discretion. On appeal, appellant’s trial testimony that he allegedly refused to marry appellee twice does not undermine the trial court’s determination that the two consented to a common law marriage relationship. Appellee denied those refusals ever occurred. And the court found appellee’s testimony credible while it found appellant’s testimony inconsistent and contradictory. Appellant did not challenge the court’s credibility findings below and or on appeal. He has therefore not shown that the district court’s consent determination was an abuse of discretion. Further, while the best evidence of marital consent is a written agreement by both parties, consent may also be established by evidence of certain circumstances in the parties’ relationship. And ample circumstantial evidence supports the court’s finding of consent.
  • Appellant waived a challenge to the district court’s ruling regarding the custody evaluation costs and fees.

Read the full court opinion

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