Donald and Marie were living the good life. They'd been married over forty years, his second marriage, her first, and they were retired, spending time enjoying their grandchildren. Then Donald passed unexpectedly.
After the funeral, Marie received a call from Donald's retirement plan provider. The voice said, “Your marriage was never valid because Donald’s divorce was not final before your marriage.” Then the voice said something that shook her to her core, “You can no longer draw Donald's retirement. I'm going to put through some paperwork so that you do not have to pay back what you received after Donald died, but that may not be approved.”
In Missouri, the law only permits an attorney to attack the entry of the divorce on the basis of extrinsic fraud or fraud upon the Court. Very hard to do. In this case the first wife, judge, divorce attorney, are all unavailable. In Illinois, however, there is a remedy for Illinois residents. A statute provides that any person having gone through a marriage ceremony, who has cohabited with another to whom he was not legally married in the good faith belief that he was married to that person is a putative spouse until knowledge of the fact that he is not legally married terminates his status and prevents acquisition of further rights. It is even effective after-the-fact on a retirement plan provider.
Actually, Donald and Marie avoided the scenario, above. They relocated from Missouri to Illinois, and after establishing residency, filed with a local court to have the “defect” in the validity of their marriage corrected. Not including the move, it was as simple as a name change and was binding upon the retirement plan provider.
Whether you need simple or more complicated family law help, call an attorney (licensed in Missouri and Illinois) who cares, who is accessible, and who will aggressively pursue your goals.