The putative spouse doctrine provides an equitable remedy where one or both spouses believed in good faith they were married and subsequently discovered the marriage wasn’t valid. The spouse that is unaware of any impediment to the marriage is the putative spouse. The equitable remedy provided more or less mirrors the relief that would be available if the parties were divorcing from a valid marriage. The purpose of the doctrine is to protect those who have an honest belief that they are married from being denied the economic and/or status related benefits of marriage including potential property division and support.
The doctrine is recognized in many states across the country as long as the key elements are met. First, there must be a proper marriage ceremony. Second, one or both parties must have a good faith belief the marriage is valid. Good faith is defined as an honest and reasonable belief. If either spouse receives information concerning the validity of the marriage, they have a duty to investigate further.