In a unique decision, a family judge has ruled that a marriage that endured for less than three weeks prior to separation remained legally valid when the husband – who had by then undergone gender reassignment – died more than 20 years later.
The wife was 18 in 1989 when she married her 24-year-old husband. They never lived together and the husband claimed that the relationship had not been consummated. They swiftly lost touch and the wife had no idea what had happened to the husband until 2016, when private detectives traced her and informed her that the husband had died in 2011 after undergoing surgery in America.
The husband, whose female gender had by then been officially recognised, had started divorce proceedings shortly before her death and she had been granted a decree nisi. However, a decree absolute was not issued until 17 days after her death. The wife, who could not at that time be found, was entirely unaware of the proceedings until the private detectives contacted her in connection with litigation in America that had been ongoing since the husband’s death.
The judge noted that it was likely that, by the time of her death, the husband believed that she was divorced. However, there was no doubt that the marriage was valid at its inception, the wife having been a spinster and the husband a bachelor. In the circumstances, the wife was entitled to a declaration that the marriage subsisted on the date of the husband’s death.