Before you can get divorced, you must first be married. Everyone knows this, and almost everyone knows if they are married or not. Almost — but not everyone.
For example, a couple over the Colorado border in Nebraska was in a dispute over when — or if — they got married. Their divorce case reached the state supreme court, which ruled that the two were married, but years later than the wife contended.
According to court documents, the wife in this case said she and her husband got married in Hawaii in 1996. The man said there was no marriage ceremony and the trip was just a vacation.
Married or not, the couple lived together and had four children. Then in 2012, the wife tried to find their marriage certificate for insurance reasons. When she could not find it, she contacted officials in Hawaii, who told her that marriage records from 1996 had been purged. So, she says, she and her husband had a marriage ceremony in their home. This time, there is a marriage certificate application signed and dated by both parties.
Later, the couple began divorce proceedings. The date the marriage began became a major issue due to its implications for property division and spousal support. Ultimately, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that there is not enough evidence to support the contention that the marriage began in 1996, so the justices fixed the start date as 2012.
This case reveals an interesting difference between Colorado and Nebraska matrimonial laws. Colorado is one of just nine states that still recognizes common-law marriage, which is a way of establishing a marriage without ever officially getting married. A couple can establish a common-law marriage by living together for a long period and putting themselves out to the public as a married couple.
Nebraska does not recognize common-law marriage. If it had, the wife might have been able to establish the start of her marriage as 1996, whether or not she and her husband went through an official ceremony then.