Hames v. Hames

Decision Date20 September 1972
Citation163 Conn. 588,316 A.2d 379
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesJanet I. M. HAMES v. Harold J. HAMES, Jr.

Gary I. Cohen, Seymour, for appellant (defendant).

Harold B. Yudkin, Derby, for appellee (plaintiff).

Before HOUSE, C.J., and RYAN, SHAPIRO, LOISELLE and MacDONALD, JJ.

SHAPIRO, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff brought an action in three, counts by writ dated October 28, 1970, seeking an annulment, a divorce and certain equitable relief. The defendant denied the validity of the marriage. Following a hearing on the plaintiff's motion for pendente lite custody of their minor children, support and alimony, the Superior Court found that the parties were legally married and ordered payment under the motion. The defendant appeals from these orders and attacks the court's determination that there was a valid marriage. Hiss v. Hiss, 135 Conn. 333, 64 A.2d 173.

The court found the following facts: The plaintiff and the defendant were members of the Roman Catholic Church and living in the town of Shelton where on February 3, 1955, they were married according to the rites of the church. On March 20, 1957, the plaintiff was granted a divorce in the Superior Court. In 1960, the plaintiff and the defendant agreed to remarry and they appeared before a Catholic priest and expressed their intentions to remarry each other. On November 17, 1960, they applied in Shelton for a marriage license which was issued by the public official there charged with that duty. On November 22, 1960, the defendant alone took the license to a Roman Catholic priest of St. Josiph's Church in Shelton and told him that the plaintiff intended to marry him. The priest then signed the portion of the license entitled 'Marriage Certificate' certifying that 'Mr. Harold Joseph Hames, Jr. and Miss Janet Isabel Maloney . . . were legally joined in marriage by me at Shelton this 22nd day of November, 1960.' He returned the certificate to the defendant, who had it recorded at the Shelton city hall. The plaintiff and the defendant resumed marital life on November 22, 1960, and as a result of that relationship have three children. At no time subsequent to the divorce of 1957 did the plaintiff and defendant participate in a marriage ceremony. The court further found that it is basic canonical law of the Catholic Church that a marriage takes place once a man and a woman have appeared before a properly delegated priest and have exchanged consent in the presence of two witnesses; and that in a marriage so consummated, where the couple is later divorced under the state law but not divorced under the law of the Catholic Church, and where that couple wishes thereafter to be married again, once the parties have shown their agreement to begin cohabitation again, all that is necessary for Catholic celebration of such marriage is for the parties to obtain a new marriage license from the state, for the priest to sign it in the town where the license is permitted to be used and for the license to be filed with the issuing authority. According to canonical law the ceremony is simply the signing of the marriage license and that is the valid form and usage for solemnizing a marriage. According to canonical law the marriage license could be signed in the absence of one or both parties as long as they had shown that they intended to live together. The court further found that, '(c)ivilly speaking, a second marriage such as in this case, is solemnized because of the acceptance of the canonical solmenity of the signing of the license by the properly delegated priest, which declares that these two people have entered into cohabitation again, acknowledging their previous martial contract before a priest and two witnesses. The Catholic church does not call this remarriage. The church says the bond exists and the priest simply signs this license to cover the civil law to testify to the fact that this couple intends now to live together as man and wife.'

The defendant limits his attack on the finding of facts to those findings that relate to the canonical law. A finding of a material fact may be attacked when it is not supported by the evidence. The validity of such a claim is tested by the evidence printed in the appendices to the brief. Practice Book §§ 645, 721; Grodzicki v. Grodzicki, 154 Conn. 456, 459, 226 A.2d 656.

The defendant filed no appendix to his brief. The appendix to the plaintiff's brief discloses that testimony regarding canonical law as given by the presiding judge of the Diocesan Court supports the finding made by the court.

The court overruled the defendant's claim of law that the marriage of November 22, 1960, was not a legal one and concluded that the union of the plaintiff and the defendant which occurred on November 22, 1960, was a marriage in accordance with the forms and usages of the Roman Catholic religion and therefore a valid marriage under General Statutes § 46-3; that the divorce of 1957 'legally separated the parties'; and that the intention of the parties in 1960 to remarry and the subsequent signing of the marriage certificate by the Roman Catholic priest, whose religion does not recognize the legal divorce of 1957, meets the requirement of General Statutes § 46-3 in that the marriage in 1960 was solemnized in accordance with the forms and usages of the Roman Catholic religion. These conclusions, which the defendant attacks, are to be tested by the findings and must stand unless they are legally or logically inconsistent with the facts found or unless they involve the application of some erroneous rule of law material to the case. Covino v. Pfeffer, 160 Conn. 212, 216, 276 A.2d 895; Mayock v. Martin, 157 Conn. 56, 62, 245 A.2d 574, cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1111, 89 S.Ct. 924, 21 L.Ed.2d 808; Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Veneri, 157 Conn. 20, 23, 244 A.2d 401.

I

The defendant's claim that the purported marriage was invalid for want of a ceremony requires this court to determine the elements indispensable to valid marital status. To do this, we must look to the statutory scheme regulating the performance of marriages and, in particular, to General Statutes § 46-3. 1

Marital status, of course, arises not from the simple declarations of persons nor from the undisputed claims of litigants. Perlstein v. Perlstein, 152 Conn. 152, 156, 204 A.2d 909. It is rather created and dissolved only according to law. In this jurisdiction, common-law marriages are not accorded validity; State ex rel. Felson v. Allen, 129 Conn. 427, 432, 29 A.2d 306; for our statute has been construed to require the marriage contract to be entered into before authorized persons and with certain formalities which the state has prescribed. Dennis v. Dennis, 68 Conn. 186, 196, 36 A. 34.

We may observe at the outset, however, that for the purposes of the present litigation, it may be of little practical consequence whether the disputed marriage is valid or invalid. Section 46-28 of the General Statutes provides that the issue of any void or voidable marriage shall be deemed legitimate and permits the Superior Court to order alimony, custody and child support as it might in a divorce proceeding. 2 Hence, whether an annulment or divorce should be granted, the court below had indisputable authority to make the contested awards to the plaintiff; the relief provided in § 46-28 was plainly intended to cover situations where there was no valid marriage. Stapleberg v. Stapleberg, 77 Conn. 31, 35, 58 A. 233.

Since, however, the application of § 46-28 is in large part discretionary with the Superior Court, and since other rights may turn on how we characterize the marital relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant; Yeager v. Flemming, 282 F.2d 779 (5th Cir.), Catalano v. Catalano, 148 Conn. 288, 291-292, 170 A.2d 726; it is incumbent upon this court to construe the relevant provisions of § 46-3 and to decide whether the purported marriage of November 22, 1960, was, as a matter of law on the facts, valid under the statute.

II

There is no question that the divorce decree granted to the plaintiff in 1957 dissolved their previous marital status. Religious doctrines notwithstanding, the parties were legally divorced, not merely 'legally separated,' by force of a decree binding on all the world as to the existence of their status. 3 Vogel v. sylvester, 148 Conn. 666, 670, 174 A.2d 122. In the eyes of the law, needless to say, a divorced pair could be put two single persons desirous of acquiring marital status. Thus, it is clear that no act whatsoever could have revested legal status in the previously terminated marriage. Hence, if the priest's conference with the parties and his subsequent signing of the marriage certificate was an attempt to 'revalidate' the first marriage for legal as well as for religious purposes, our laws must deem his acts inconsequential. 'A clergyman in the administration of marriage is a public civil officer, and in relation to this subject, is not at all distinguished from a judge . . . or a justice of the peace, in the performance of the same duty.' Goshen v. Stonington, 4 Conn. 209, 218. Were this court to accord legal effect to his acts, it would be in the curious-and unconstitutional-position of supplanting state power with ecclesiastical power. Obviously, even if canon law should deny the authority of the state to dissolve a marriage, religious doctrine could not nullify the decrees of our courts. U.S.Const., Amends. 1, 14. The plaintiff, however, did not seek to circumvent the divorce decree. Instead, she prevailed on the theory that a second marriage was indeed 'solemnized according to the forms and usages' of the Roman Catholic Church despite the fact that a ceremony was not performed. The basic question before this court is whether a marriage was validly solemnized in accordance with the requirements of § 46-3.

III

It is urged that a second marriage was solemnized according to the forms and usages...

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