A recent case from Prince George’s County includes some highly unusual facts, including a woman’s 2011-12 effort to invalidate her divorce and her 2020 attempt to annul her husband’s marriage to his second wife… even though the husband died in 2007. While the outcome of the woman’s case doesn’t break new legal ground regarding issues like the division of marital property, it does serve to remind all spouses that, if they think you have a need to take legal action, don’t wait. Instead, get in touch with a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer as soon as possible to begin protecting your rights and avoiding risking losing them due to excessive delay.
A deceased man’s two marriages make for a case in point. It all started when, after four years of marriage, A.P. and his wife, B.P., separated in 1975. They did not, however, get divorced.
In 1991, the husband sought a divorce in D.C. The wife didn’t participate so the D.C. judge granted the man a default judgment of absolute divorce. The next year, A.P. wed again. A.P. and his second wife, M.P. remained together until the man’s death in September 2007.
Four years later, B.P. (the first wife) headed to court in D.C. She argued that she had never received notice of the husband’s D.C. divorce action back in 1991. The court held a hearing and determined that, in fact, B.P. had not received proper notice of the 1991 divorce case, and. declared the divorce judgment void. That was in July 2013.
In December 2020, B.P. filed an action in Prince George’s County asking the court there to annul A.P.’s marriage to his second wife on the basis of bigamy, as the first marriage had never been legally dissolved. The trial court ruled against the first wife, and the appeals court upheld that ruling. While the first wife had standing to seek an annulment of the man’s second marriage — as that marriage directly impact her own marriage to the same man — she waited too long to act.
Laches: The Price of Waiting Too Long
Maryland law, like the law of each other state, has a concept known as “laches,” which refers to when a person delays for an unreasonably long time in asserting a right, advancing a claim, or claiming a privilege.
Normally, laches is not a valid basis for a court’s refusal to annul a bigamous marriage, but it was in this instance. By her own admission, the first wife had known about the husband’s second marriage since at least 2007, when he died. Despite that knowledge, she waited 13 years to take legal action. Part of the reason laches applied was that the first wife — again, by her own admission — only acted to procure a financial benefit; namely, a share of the man’s pension. If the case involved a spouse acting “to vindicate the status of the marriage,” then that might have changed the analysis and laches might not have applied.
What is arguably the most important thing to take away from this case is the importance of acting in all due haste, whatever relief you’re seeking from a court. The first wife knew by 2007 (at the latest) that (a) her husband had married for a second time and (b) his divorce from her was not valid. Despite that knowledge, she waited four years to take action against the D.C. divorce judgment and 13 years to seek relief from the court in Prince George’s County. Had she acted sooner, she might have achieved a different result.
Whatever kind of divorce-related relief you need from a court in this state, count on the skilled
Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with knowledgeable advice and powerful advocacy. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.