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In re Marriage of Hansen

Supreme Court of Montana

December 10, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: JENNIFER D. HANSEN, Petitioner and Appellant, and THOMAS J. ROFFE, JR., Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 9, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, In and For the County of Jefferson, Cause No. DR-2017-17 Honorable Luke Berger, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Thomas J. Karem, Karem Law Firm, P.C., Bozeman, Montana.

          For Appellee: Christopher J. Gillette, Christopher J. Gillette, P.C., Bozeman, Montana.

          OPINION

          Mike McGrath, Chief Justice.

         ¶1 Jennifer Hansen ("Hansen") appeals from an order of the Fifth Judicial District Court, Jefferson County, dismissing her Verified Petition for Dissolution of Marriage on the basis that she failed to establish a common law marriage with Thomas Roffe ("Roffe").

         ¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

1. Whether the District Court erroneously concluded that Hansen failed to establish that Hansen and Roffe assumed a marital relationship by mutual consent and agreement.
2. Whether the District Court erroneously concluded that Hansen failed to establish that Hansen's and Roffe's alleged common law marriage was confirmed by public repute when they were held out as "life partners."

         ¶3 We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶4 In 2005, Roffe and Hansen, both unmarried, met and began dating exclusively for a period of ten years with their relationship ending in 2015. In 2007, Hansen moved in with Roffe at his Bozeman home. While living together Hansen led and financed remodeling efforts of Roffe's home. Hansen's financing of the remodel served as repayment of a 2008 loan from Roffe to Hansen that was formalized in a promissory note.

         ¶5 In addition to living together, Roffe and Hansen travelled extensively together and hosted parties at their shared residences. Roffe and Hansen would also send holiday and invitation letters to friends jointly, but none of the letters referenced that they were husband and wife or married. In fact, the only cited reference to using marital terminology was by Hansen in an email where she referred to Roffe as her husband. Roffe was not copied. Both Hansen and Roffe agree that they viewed each other as "life partners."

         ¶6 Throughout the relationship, Roffe gifted Hansen jewelry, including several rings. The parties dispute the classification of the rings, but there was no mention by any witness, other than Hansen herself, that the rings signified marriage. Hansen claimed that one of the rings was an "eternity ring" that commemorated them being together ...


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