In absence of de facto marriage, judge upholds marital rights of Baldwin County widow


Joseph Harvey Precise Jr., 49, can finally rest in peace. His body had been held in the Baldwin County Coroner’s office for 20 days last Wednesday when his mother, Julia Precise, and his three-year-old wife, Jessica Precise, met in Judge Jody Bishop’s courtroom.

Disabled coal miner and father of six – he conceived a pair of 17-year-old twins and a set of 14-year-old quadruplets with his ex-wife Dalynda “Hope” Precise – Joseph died suddenly on May 6 of natural causes.

Baldwin County Coroner Dr Brian Pierce said his office typically reviews all deaths without supervision and the final disposition of remains is settled by the next of kin.

“There is usually a pecking order starting with the spouse if the deceased is married, a parent if he is single, a brother if there is no relative, cousins, aunts or uncles and on any the line, ”he said. “But it has become more confusing with the abolition of common-law marriage in Alabama, and if anyone disputes possession of the remains, the probates judge is usually required to verify. But unfortunately, this is a situation where the gentleman who died has family issues. ”

Joseph and Hope were reported to have been parties to a “high-conflict divorce,” a contested proceeding in which details such as custody arrangements and child support obligations cannot be determined until years after the parties have separated.

Joseph and Hope separated on September 5, 2015, and Joseph filed for divorce a month later. The following summer, while the divorce action was pending, Joseph met Jessica, who had never been married and had no children.

Facebook | Jessica and Joseph Precise tied the knot about a week after his divorce from his previous wife was finalized on paper, apparently in violation of the state’s 60-day ban on the right to remarry.

On July 18, 2017, a hearing began in Shelby County where a judge admitted the divorce, although the final judgment was not signed until September 19. Joseph and Jessica tied the knot on September 27, 69 days after the hearing, but just a week after the documents were timestamped.

When Joseph passed away earlier this month, his mother claimed her marriage to Jessica was void, citing the 60-day waiting period to remarry after a divorce. Julia sued Jessica and Pierce, further arguing that Jessica could not claim the common-law marriage because the state abolished her recognition in January 2017.

“The argument is who has custody and who has the legal authority to decide the terms of the burial,” plaintiff’s attorney, Blake Lowe, told court. Both parties testified that their relationship was “toxic” and although there had been some improvements over time, Julia would never recognize the validity of the marriage.

“She never accepted me or our marriage,” Jessica said. “She’s only spoken two sentences to me in four years, once threatening to hit me with a McDonald’s tray and the other treating me badly.”

Julia said his relationship with Joseph was improving and assumed he only rushed to remarry Jessica because the divorce agreement prohibited Joseph from visiting children if he was not married and cohabited.

“I accepted that he was in a relationship with Jessica, but not the marriage,” Julia said. “How can I accept something that is not true?” “

Joseph’s mother said he wanted a traditional funeral and burial near Montgomery, in a location that would be convenient for his family. His wife said that was not his intention at all, that Joseph was adamant that he be cremated without his family seeing his body. Jessica told the court they discussed buying necklaces for each of her children, along with lockets for her ashes.

The six children were also named complainants in the lawsuit, but Bishop dismissed them before the hearing because they were under 18.

Like more than half of Americans, Joseph Precise died without a will. More importantly, she was also missing a simpler document officially authorizing a “right of disposition officer,” said attorney Mary Murchison, who represented Jessica in the case.

“It’s probably a case of first impression,” Murchison told Lagniappe last week. “You’ve heard the term ‘unintended consequences’, but when they abolished common-law marriage, that is one of the things that happened. We have an archaic law known as the 60-day post-divorce ban, preventing you from remarrying anyone other than your ex-spouse. But recently you have a series of cases in [the Supreme Court of the United States] defining marriage, speaking of the fundamental right to marry. Today you must have a high enough interest in the state to interfere with these rights and [the 60-day law] does not reach a level that would deprive someone of their fundamental rights.

Murchison cited the landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges at the federal level, but also a state case, Krug v. Krug, decided after a recently married man was killed while deployed in the Vietnam War. Raymond and Clara Ann Krug were married in Georgia on December 31, 1969, just one week after Clara Ann divorced her first husband in Coffee County, Alabama.

In the days leading up to his January 19 deployment, Raymond named Clara Ann as beneficiary of his life insurance, opened a joint account in her name, signed a will leaving all property to his wife, and gave her a proxy. In the months leading up to his death in a helicopter crash on May 14, “they exchanged letters almost daily and recorded frequent. He addressed his mail to Mrs. Raymond H. Krug Jr. He wrote about his desire to start a family and he began to assign obligations to her and the obligations were payable to her and to him.

After his death, Krug’s parents challenged his marriage to Clara Ann, citing the 60-day restriction. But the Alabama Supreme Court recognized the protections offered by common law marriage.

“It is the well-established rule that if the parties marry in good faith when in fact there is a legal impediment to their marriage, and they continue to cohabit as male and female after the removal of prevention, the law presumes a community. marriage law, ”the court concluded. “The only obstacle or obstacle to this marriage in Alabama was the 60-day waiting period, and once that has passed, a common-law marriage would be presumed.”

But since common-law marriage is no longer part of the equation, the Precise case would target the 60-day waiting period.

“Do we take away the fundamental right of someone with an artificial ban on remarrying, or do we recognize if these people acted in good faith, tried to obey the law and were in a committed relationship? Murchison asked. “It was a real marriage – this man loved this woman and he was coming out of a horrible divorce. For the first time in a long time, he was happy. Ultimately it will be [Jessica’s] marital rights as a wife. It will be very disturbing if it is stripped. Most importantly, she knew his last wishes and couldn’t fulfill them because these people came in and said you weren’t his wife.

In an order signed Thursday, Justice Bishop agreed. Pierce was ordered to return Joseph’s remains to his wife.

“The defendant presented a valid marriage certificate showing that she was the legal wife of the deceased,” Bishop wrote. “The validity of the said marriage was not contested by any of the parties to the marriage nor by any other party, including the applicant, during the husband’s lifetime… Marriage is not only recognized by the courts as a fundamental right, but a ceremonial marriage. is encouraged by public policies for the stability of the family and society. At the time of the defendant’s marriage to the deceased, his divorce decree was final and had not been appealed. The court concludes that there is no compelling public interest in annulling the marriage… and rejects the plaintiff’s arguments to that effect.

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