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Big Love in the Land of Enchantment

Bigamy here in New Mexico! Chaves county woman married to two men at the same time! (Does she still get half of hubbie #1's pension?)

 

Rachael and Jose Medina were married here in New Mexico in 1993. In 1999, Rachael also married Paul Orozco in Colorado. When Rachael applied for the Colorado marriage license, she used a fictitious name, birth date and Social Security number and stated she was a widow. But Jose Medina was not dead; he was still alive and in New Mexico. Husband number two, Paul Orozco, did die in 2002, however.

In 2003, Jose Medina filed for divorce from Rachael. During the divorce trial, Jose argued that Rachael's bigamy meant he should not have to share his pension with her. Rachael argued she should get her full half of the pension as community property.

Our Court of Appeals' recent decision in Medina vs. Medina (2006-NMCA-042) contains some startling news: While committing bigamy is a criminal offense in New Mexico, a bigamous marriage itself is not automatically invalid. The Court of Appeals said it is up to the state legislature to make bigamy invalid, thus automatically canceling community property rights.

Fortunately for Rachael, though, Colorado does have a law automatically invalidating a bigamist marriage. Because her second marriage was in Colorado, that marriage therefore was invalid. So her first marriage here in New Mexico was still valid.

Jose then argued that Rachael's misconduct was sufficient to make her lose her community-property interest in his pension. But New Mexico is a "no-fault divorce" state. And previous court decisions in New Mexico have said infidelity and criminal acts such as domestic violence do not disqualify one from sharing in community property at divorce.

The Court of Appeals decided it would take misconduct so bad that it would "shock the conscience of the court" to forfeit a bigamist's share of the community property.

At the Medinas' divorce trial, Rachael testified that Jose knew about her Colorado marriage to Orozco within two weeks of her second marriage. Jose testified he had only suspected Rachael's bigamy and he "was not able to absolutely confirm the fact of a bigamous marriage" until Orozco's sister's testimony at their divorce trial.

According to our Court of Appeals, "If a spouse is aware of the bigamous marriage and does nothing, then it would seem inequitable to allow that spouse to retain community assets to which the bigamous spouse would ordinarily be entitled." It looks like two-timing Rachael gets half of Jose's pension.

So, HBO-style "Big Love" is valid here in good-old New Mexico, so long as everyone who is married knows about it. It may be a crime, but that would be a problem only if the DA prosecutes.

I don't know if anyone has been criminally prosecuted for bigamy recently. According to the Silver City Museum's records, though, such crimes were taken seriously in the old days. The incomparable Susan Berry of the museum kindly did some research and quickly came up with Silver City newspaper articles of six different bigamy prosecutions from years ago. One juicy example was reported in both the Silver City Independent and in the Silver City Enterprise. According to the Independent:

"8 July 1930—Phoenix Man Wanted for Bigamy Was Married Here. Also Drove Embezzled Car

"M.C. Stonelocker and Emma Long were married in Silver City Saturday evening, by city police magistrate H.T. Duncan. Later that night Sheriff John M. St. John received a telegram from Phoenix, Ariz., in which he was requested by authorities there to hold Stonelocker. It is said that he was driving an embezzled car and had a wife and family in Phoenix.

"Those males who witnessed the ceremony said that the bride was one of the most beautiful women they had ever seen. [The Enterprise reported she "appeared to be 16 or 17 years of age."] The women witnesses were naturally more interested in Stonelocker. One described him as being 'as handsome as a Greek god.' There was no argument as no one present admitted that they had ever seen a Greek god. Judge Duncan brought the description down to more modern times and he stated that Stonelocker 'was sure a sheik.'

"The Long girl's relatives, said to be one of the leading families in Phoenix, are distracted by the episode, which culminated in the illegal marriage of the pair in Silver City. They left town before officers knew they were wanted in Phoenix."

The Enterprise noted the couple absconded from Silver City just in time: "The groom "escaped arrest by a few minutes."

Next month: Our Court of Appeals says your garbage is entitled to privacy even after you throw it away. Is this a great state or what?

 

Robert (Tito) Meyer practices law in Las Cruces, representing people who have been injured in accidents and the families of people who have been killed in accidents. Contact him at tito@zianet.com, (505) 524-4540,
(800) 610-0555, or PO Box 1628, Las Cruces, NM 88004. This column is not intended to provide legal advice to any specific person, or with respect to any particular problems or situations. To find a lawyer, call the State Bar of New Mexico referral service, (800) 876-6227.

 

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