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When is a marriage ‘absolutely null’ or ‘relatively null’?

On Behalf of | May 7, 2015 | Firm News |

The definition of marriage has been a subject of controversy and lawsuits for the past couple of years (at least). Louisiana’s definition is just two sentences long:

Marriage is a legal relationship between a man and a woman that is created by civil contract. The relationship and the contract are subject to special rules prescribed by law.

(La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 86)

While the statute stops there, the state code does not. The code goes on to include definitions of what marriage is not.

These are called “impediments to marriage,” and the marriage is absolutely null if one or more exists at the time of the marriage ceremony. The couple and the law treat an absolutely null marriage as if it never happened.

For example, one impediment is an existing marriage. Say a couple gets married on a Saturday and open their gifts the next day. On Monday, the husband’s first wife arrives and informs everyone that she and the groom were never divorced. This new marriage is absolutely null, and the bride and groom’s relationship returns to what it was before the ceremony on Saturday.

Speaking of the ceremony, a marriage not solemnized in such a ceremony is absolutely null. A marriage between members of the same sex is also absolutely null, as is a marriage between close relatives. In the last, the bride and groom may not be related to the 4th degree or less. The 4th degree is not as far out from your immediate family as you may think: It does include great-great grandchildren and great aunts and uncles, and, more importantly, it extends to first cousins.

While an existing marriage will make another marriage absolutely null, the reverse is not necessarily true. In our example above, say the recent marriage is absolutely null because of the husband’s previous marriage. The bride is not bound by the vows of her null marriage, and she is free to marry again right away.

The couple will be free to marry again once the impediment is eliminated. In our example, the first marriage must be dissolved before the new couple can marry.

Source: Louisiana Civil Code, Book 1, Title IV, Chapters 1 and 2, via WestlawNext