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Getting Married? Get Your License and Choose Your Officiant

SHEPENYUK V. ABDELILAH, 2023-NCCOA-______ (2023)

  • Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant were “married.” On August 25, 2015, the parties were the host of a religious wedding ceremony officiated by Defendant’s brother. This brother was not ordained or legally authorized to officiate a ceremony. The parties themselves failed to obtain a marriage license prior to the ceremony. Six years later, in September of 2021, Plaintiff filed for a domestic violence protective order and alleged that she and Defendant were not married. Multiple other pleadings, including complaints and answers/responses to a partition action as well as a complaint for equitable distribution (ED) and alimony were filed, wherein it was essentially admitted that the parties were not legally married. Plaintiff amended her ED and alimony complaint to ask that the court treat the parties as presumptively married. Defendant moved to dismiss. Trial court dismissed for lack of a claim for which relief could be granted, finding that the parties were not married and an “equitable marriage” theory was unwarranted.


  • Issue: Did the trial court err by dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint for ED and alimony?


  • Holding:


  • Rationale: Since the parties were “married” in Virginia, the Court looked to Virginia’s laws in order to determine whether there was a valid marriage that could give rise to ED and alimony claims in North Carolina. Virginia requires every marriage to be under licenses and solemnized according to Virginia law. Since the prior pleadings make it abundantly clear that plaintiff and defendant were not legally married in Virginia, because there was no license issued or proper officiant, there was no issue as to whether North Carolina should hold the parties to be married. The answer was no.