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MAY 14 2012
4TH DBSTRICT STATE OF UTAH ~
IN THE FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT UTAH COUNTY, STATE OF UTAH
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------In the Matter of the Estate of Gary W. Coleman, Memorandum Decision Date: May 14,2012 Case Number: 103400293 Division VII: Judge James R. Taylor
Trial was conducted on May 7 and May 8, after which the question was taken under advisement. The trial was scheduled to allow the Court to receive evidence on an issue critical to continued administration of this estate. Ms. Price seeks appointment as a personal representative under a holographic will executed before her divorce from Mr. Coleman in August 2008. Ms. Gray asserts that the testamentary document presented by Ms. Price was revoked by her divorce pursuant to U.C.A. § 75-2-805(2)(a). Ms. Price responds that she effectively re-married Mr.
Coleman by compliance with U.C.A. §§ 30-1-4.5, which renewed her status as a priority designee under U.C.A. § 75-2-805(5). The issue to be determined from this hearing is whether the elements of Utah's nonceremonial marriage statute have been satisfied. A marriage ... shall be legal and valid if a court ... establishes that it arises out of a contract between a man and a woman who: (a) are oflegal age and capable of giving consent; (b) are legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage ... ; (c) have cohabited;
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(d) mutually assume marital rights, duties, and obligation; and (e) who hold themselves out as and have acquired a uniform and general reputation as husband and wife. U.C.A.30-1-4.5(1). Subsections (a) and (b) are not disputed by the parties. Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price were of appropriate age, were capable of giving consent to marry and were legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage. Subsections (c), (d) and (e) are disputed. The Court will discuss each of these subsections and make relevant findings of fact accordingly. Cohabitation Taken in a general context, the term "cohabitation" simply includes "[t]he act of living together in one house, boarding and tabling together." Bouvier's Law Dictionary 183 (BanksBaldwin Law Publishing Company, Baldwin's Student ed. 1946). But the term is much more commonly used in connection with a reputed marriage relationship. Black's Law Dictionary Black's
includes "[l]iving together; living together as husband and wife; sexual intercourse."
Law Dictionary, 346 (3d ed. 1933). The Utah Code employs the term in connection with termination of alimony. See U.C.A. § 30-3-5(10). In Haddow v. Haddow, 707 P.2d 669 (Utah 1985), the Utah Supreme Court examined the definition of cohabitation in the context of whether alimony should have terminated. At that time
the term did not appear in the code. The statute at that time directed the court to terminate the alimony obligation ofa former spouse upon proof that the recipient of alimony was residing with a person of the opposite sex unless it could be established the relationship was without sexual
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contact. In that context "cohabitation," sufficient to terminate alimony, was held to include both "common residency and sexual contact evidencing a conjugal association." Id. at 672.
The alimony statute has since been amended to include an explicit reference to "cohabitation." U.C.A. § 30-3-5(10). A more recent consideration, after the amendment, was
undertaken by both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in Myers v. Myers, 231 P.3d 815 (Utah Ct.App. 2010), affd 266 P.3d 806 (Utah 2011). In Myers the trial court determined that an adult woman who received alimony slept on the couch at her parent's home about 80% of the time. There was testimony that she engaged in a sexual relationship with a teenage foster son of her parents during that time. Her ex-husband sought to terminate alimony on the theory that living in a home plus a sexual relationship equated to cohabitation under Haddow, supra. Both the Utah Court of Appeals and the Utah Supreme Court concluded that cohabitation under the statute involves "a relationship 'akin to that generally existing between husband and wife'" and that the relationship between Ms. Myers and the foster son bore little resemblance to a marriage. Alimony, or "spouse support" is authorized under Utah law to provide support to formerly married adults to prevent the former spouse from becoming a "public charge," and to maintain, as nearly as possible, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Myers, 231 P.3d at 817. By contrast, non-ceremonial marriage, first authorized in 1987 by the enactment of U.C.A. § 30-10-4.5, serves a different purpose. One cynical view of that purpose was
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authoritatively expressed in the dissent in Kelley v. Kelley, 9 P.3d 171 (Utah Ct.App. 2000). Judge Jackson opined at ~39 that Utah adopted the statute to reclaim fraudulently paid welfare. Id. at 182 (Jackson, J., dissenting). More generally, however, this Court concludes that the
principal purpose can be derived from a comparison of ceremonial or traditional marriage with non-traditional marriage. In a traditional marriage, the couple purchases a license and participates in a ceremony. U.c.A. §§ 30-1-7, 8. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the officiator is required to return the completed license to the County Clerk where it becomes a matter of public record. U.C.A. §§ 30-1-11, 12 and § 17-20-4. Ifno one in the world except the officiator, the witnesses and the clerk personally know it, the parties are still married. Indeed, a testamentary appointment, as suggested in this case, will be honored because anyone who needs to know can go to the public record and confirm the marriage. It is that imputed knowledge that is missing in a nonceremonial marriage. It is the view of this Court that U.C.A. § 30-1-4.5 is actually a method by which public knowledge and reputation of marriage substitute for the physical public record of marriage. Certainly some of the considerations suggested in Myers relating to the quality and general nature of the relationship are echoed in subsection (d) of the non-ceremonial marriage statute. But in the context of alimony, the question is the actual relationship· between the parties and whether they can or should look to each other for support rather than to another, former spouse. In the non-ceremonial marriage analysis, the question is whether the rest of the world
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should know from their behavior that they are married. All of this leads this Court to conclude that "cohabitation," as used under U.C.A. §30-14.5(c), refers to an appearance of a permanent residence as husband and wife to establish that the relationship is a marriage. A sexual relationship is relevant only to the extent that it was apparent to others outside the marriage. Findings of Fact: Cohabitation From a preponderance of the evidence the Court finds: 1) Mr. Coleman purchased and lived in a home in Santaquin from the summer of 2007 until his death on May 28,2010. 2) Ms. Price also lived in the home although she physically left the home on a number of occasions. 3) Ms. Price left the home for an unspecified, but temporary, period to engage in a romantic dalliance with a man in Santaquin in about April of 2009. 4) At the conclusion of that sojourn Ms. Price recovered a few items of property from the residence of the other man, including her automobile, a television and a small dresser, which were then returned to her at the Coleman home. 5) Ms. Price did, on occasion, have disagreements with Mr. Coleman that resulted in her leaving the home for brief periods to stay with friends or even to sleep in her car. 6) In February, 2010, Ms. Price was restricted from entering the home by a temporary
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court order. The locks were changed without her knowledge or participation.
told Ms. Buys that she couldn't get into the home but asked for food to be left in the mailbox at the home so she could get it when she went to get her things, later. However, Ms. Buys covertly observed after leaving the food that Ms. Price emerged from the home through the garage and recovered the food from the mailbox. It appears that, notwithstanding whatever temporary restraining order was in place, Ms. Price continued to be physically in the home. 7) Ms. Price operated a business from the home which included inventory in the home and a related sign of some sort. 8) On an undetermined number of occasions toward the end ofMr. Coleman's life when his health had declined it was necessary for him to be transported by ambulance from the home to a hospital. Ms. Price was observed on those occasions to be at the home and to return into the home when the ambulance left with Mr. Coleman. 7) Ms. Price was physically in the home in May, 2010 at the onset of the final illness of Mr. Coleman. Mr. Coleman suffered a fall in the home striking his head on May 26, 2010, eventually resulting in his death on May 28,2010. Exhibit 11.
8) The domestic file, which contains the divorce action, commenced in 2008 and the litigation surrounding the temporary order in 2010 are sealed. The Court has not been asked to unseal or include information from that case in this proceeding.
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9) Mr. Price, the father of Ms. Price visited the parties regularly, at least monthly, during the period from August 2008 to the time of the death of Mr. Coleman. During that time he observed that Ms. Price was physically present in the home. 10) Mr. Price observed that the personal possessions of Ms. Price were in the Coleman home. 11) Mr. Price observed that Ms. Coleman was sleeping in the home and that her pet dogs were there as well. 12) Mr. Price is extremely hard of hearing. He experienced occasions, without noting when, that he watched television with Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price in the larger bedroom in the evening. He would say goodnight, leaving them in the bed and discover them in the bed the next morning. He felt that if Ms. Price had left the room in the night her dogs would have loudly barked. However given that his customary room was in a different area of the house and his extreme hearing deficiency the Court does not accept his observation as convincing evidence to justify a personal knowledge that Ms. Price remained in the bedroom through the night. 12) Mr. Jeffs, special Administrator of the Estate, entered the home soon after the death of Mr. Coleman. He observed many feminine items including clothes and personal hygiene products intermingled with the clothing of Mr. Coleman which would be normal and consistent with the co-residence of a couple.
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13) Bank accounts owned by Ms. Price identified the Coleman home as her personal or, at least mailing address. Exhibit 4. 14) Tax returns filed on behalf of Ms. Price for the years 2007 and 2008 identified the Santaquin home as her mailing address. Exhibits 23 and 24. 15) Neighbor and friend Heidi Higginson, although testifying that Ms. Price and Mr. Coleman "held themselves out to the public" as husband and wife, never saw them kiss or hold hands. 16) Jared Hales, a manager of the bank where both did business, saw Ms. Price put her arm around Mr. Coleman but nothing more physical than that. 17) Audra Wright lives across the street from the Coleman home. She never observed the couple to be happy. On at least one occasion, Ms. Price went out of her way to physically humiliate Mr. Coleman and bragged about physically assaulting him. 18) Only Mr. Price testified that he observed any kind of romantic physical contact between Ms. Price and Mr. Coleman. He was not specific about where or when he observed them holding hands, putting arms around each other or giving a "peck on the cheek." 19) Ms. Price told Audra Wright that she and Mr. Coleman were not "sleeping together" and had separate rooms. Ms. Wright was allowed to observe both rooms. Ms. Price told Audra Wright that she did not love Mr. Coleman but was staying with him on the advice
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of an agent to create an opportunity to advance her career as an actress or model. 20) Ms. Price told Brandy Buys that she "never had sex" with Mr. Coleman and that Mr. Coleman had asked Ms. Price to leave the home, resulting in her sleeping in her car. It was not clear when this occurred, however Ms. Buys met the couple for the first time after the divorce in April, 2009. 21) Ms. Price testified that she maintained a loving, sexual relationship with Mr. Coleman until the time of his death. The Court does not find her testimony convincing. She was publicly abusive to him, engaged in an open romantic relationship with another man in the community, was prohibited from entering the home because locks were changed by court order, and has a significant self-interest in this case. From these facts the Court concludes that following the divorce in August, 2008 Ms. Price continued to generally reside in the Coleman home with Mr. Coleman until the time of his death. However their behavior, in particular the behavior of Ms. Price, did nothing to create an implication that there was an on-going sexual relationship between them. More generally the relationship was ambiguous. Ms. Price engaged in an open and obvious romantic relationship with another man. They allowed bankers and business associates to refer to them as spouses. Some close acquaintances were specifically told that there was no marriage. Others were not. The Court concludes from a preponderance of the evidence and a totality of the circumstances described that it could not have been said that the parties engaged in a marriage-like status of
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cohabitation because the nature of their relationship was not apparent to the community from their behavior. Mutual Assumption of Marital Rights, Duties, and Obligations The mutual assumption of marital rights, duties and obligations made explicit as an element in the non-ceremonial marriage statute, 30-1-4.5(d), might be considered an implicit factor when considering the termination of alimony under Myers, supra. As noted above, termination of alimony requires a determination that the new relationship is, indeed, a substitute or replacement marriage sufficient to require the claimant to rely upon the new partner for support instead of looking to the former partner for alimony. It is the actual quality and nature of the relationship that matters. For the purpose of a non-ceremonial marriage question, however, this Court is satisfied that what matters is if the relationship creates a sufficient actual notice to substitute for the record of marriages maintained by the County Clerk. Findings of Fact: Mutual Assumption of Rights and Duties The Court finds to a preponderance of the evidence that: 1) The Santaquin home was purchased by Mr. Coleman at the beginning of the relationship in 2007. He deeded a join-tenant interest to Ms. Price before they were married. After the marriage but before the divorce, Ms. Price's interest was returned to Mr. Coleman at her request. 2) It isn't likely that she would have been responsible for the mortgage even if she had
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remained ajoint tenant, but Ms. Price's intent in executing the quit-claim deed was to avoid any obligation related to the home. Recordation of the final quit claim deed created an imputed public knowledge that she claimed no interest in the home. 3) Ms. Price and Mr. Coleman both contributed income to be used for joint living expenses. 4) Living related expenses were paid using ajoint checking account between them. 5) Ms. Price continued to maintain a separate checking account for use with her business. 6) Although each brought a vehicle to the relationship, Mr. Coleman had a pickup truck and Ms. Price had an automobile, the vehicles were insured together. 7) Both parties engaged in some cooking and cleaning as health permitted although most visitors to the home reported that the home was generally disheveled and not cared for. 8) On one occasion, after the 2008 divorce and most likely in the spring of2009, Ms. Buys arrived to find broken dishes all over the kitchen. She was informed that Mr. Coleman had become angry because Ms. Price would not cook or clean and had thrown the dishes in anger. Ms. Price informed Ms. Buys that she was neither wife nor maid-just a roommate-and had no obligation to clean up.
9) In the last months of his life, Mr. Coleman had to receive dialysis three times a week in the hospital in Provo. Ms. Price felt it was unsafe for her to drive to those appointments because she had experienced seizures. Other friends and neighbors provided
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transportation on those occasions. There was little testimony to indicate how that transportation was arranged-specifically whether Mr. Coleman asked others to help or
whether Ms. Price helped to make those requests, as might be expected of a spouse. 10) Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price went together to an accounting service and signed and filed income tax returns which combined their income as "married, filing jointly" allowing them to share a tax refund of$7,588 from the 2007 tax year (Exhibit 23) and $25,872 for the 2008 tax year (Exhibit 24). However, the parties were married during most of2008, divorcing in August of that year. The Court is therefore unable to conclude anything about the assumption of rights and duties after the divorce from the tax returns. 11) Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price opened joint accounts at Chase Bank and did not correct the banker's impression that they were married. They did not use a married name on the accounts or the checks, instead designating the account holder on the statements as "Gary Coleman" on one line and "Ms. Shannon M. Price" on the next line. A checking account at American First Federal Credit Union also identified the account holder on the checks as "Shannon M Price" on the first line and "Gary Coleman" on the next. None of the documents otherwise identified them as "Mr. and Mrs." or as spouses. 12) During a business dinner a few weeks before his death, Mr. Coleman met with an agent and producers who had come from California. Mr. Coleman insisted that they also consider employment for Ms. Price. Ms. Price was not there because she was ill. During
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that same meeting, Mr. Coleman referred to Ms. Price as his wife and asked for food to take home to her. 13) Together, Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price participated in a community bowling league. Hailey Jo Mower testified that she also bowled. During that time Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price referred to each other by first names, not referring to each other as "wife" or "husband" or by use of pet names or other terms of endearment. 15) During the spring of2009, Ms. Price participated in a romantic relationship with another man in Santaquin. During that time she moved out of the Coleman home and into the home of the other man. She was observed engaging in physically familiar behavior including holding hands, kissing and body language characteristic of romantic couples. From these facts the Court is unable to find that it has been established, by a preponderance, that Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price together assumed marital rights, duties and obligations. Ms. Price expressly intended to avoid joint debt or obligation for the home. Outside of her own declaration, there was no evidence that she participated in substantive decisions about the care and treatment ofMr. Coleman's illness or that he did the same for her. She testified that they had a sexual relationship but told others that they did not. They appear to have been generally both living in the home but Ms. Price left to be with another man for a while. She left on an unspecified number of occasions when the parties quarreled. She was the subject of a
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temporary restraining order that resulted in the locks being changed in February, 2010. Mr. Coleman demanded that she have a benefit from a contract offer to him but there is no evidence that they had any kind of formal business arrangement, including his participation in her business. There was no testimony offered about what happened to the tax refunds or whether any of the refund related to post divorce income. There is simply insufficient credible evidence to conclude that they were more than occasional roommates. The Court cannot find that they engaged in the kind of fiduciary relationship expected of married couples. Holding Out and Acquiring a Uniform and General Reputation as Husband and Wife This section of the statute plainly includes two discreet parts. First, the Court must consider affirmative acts undertaken by the couple to create the impression of a marriage: literally "holding out" themselves as husband and wife. Second, the Court must determine if there is evidence that the effort has been successful-whether reputation as husband and wife. Holding Out as Husband and Wife The Court finds the following facts to a preponderance of the evidence: 1) Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price divorced in August 2008 after Mr. Coleman had traveled out of state for business and Ms. Price told him she "can't go through with this marriage," following which Ms. Price moved out of the home. 2) Mr. Coleman didn't want the general public to have knowledge, one way or the other, there is a uniform and general
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of his marital status. 3) Because of the desire for privacy and the fame of Mr. Coleman, the parties took little action to explain the status of their relationship to the general public. 4) Ms. Price never met and was never introduced to Mr. Coleman's family because he was estranged from them before he met Ms. Price. 5) The two went, sometimes with the father of Ms. Price, and sometimes with other neighbors or friends, bowling and to restaurants. 6) When Mr. Coleman had to travel from the home in Santaquin to the hospital in Provo for dialysis, he instructed the friends who were driving to take the "back roads" to avoid recognition and publicity, which resulted in the trip taking longer than normal. 7) Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price did nothing to further the understanding oftheir accountants that they were still spouses after August 2008. 8) During one business meeting, Mr. Coleman referred to Ms. Price as his spouse. 9) There was very little evidence of any kind of physical closeness or intimacy in public. There was testimony that rather than hold hands, Ms. Price was seen grabbing the wrist of Mr. Coleman to pull him along like a child. Ms. Price openly spoke of physical violence but never physical intimacy or closeness. From these facts the Court concludes that Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price specifically intended to keep the nature of their relationship confidential and out of the public notice. They
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did little, if anything, to create a public impression that they were married. General and Uniform Reputation as Husband and Wife From a preponderance of the evidence the Court finds: 1) There was no testimony, from any witness, that there ever was any kind of general reputation or public understanding of the relationship between Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price. 2) Some witnesses had a personal understanding that the parties were married. The banker was told by another bank employee that they were married and simply assumed the relationship without making further inquiry. Although that might imply a reputation, the bank worker or source of that worker's knowledge was not explored. The accountant noted that the firm had treated the couple as married, filing jointly for 2007 and 2008 returns and were not told of a change in status from the sealed 2008 divorce. 3) Other witnesses were specifically told by Ms. Price that she and Mr. Coleman were divorced. At least two of these acquaintances, Ms. Buys and Ms. Mower, have personal knowledge that Ms. Price had a romance with another man in Santaquin. The Court concludes that the public understanding was less than uniform or general. By design, the status of the relationship was kept private. When it suited their purpose, Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price either let others believe that they were spouses or specifically disclaimed amarnage.
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Conclusion Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price were of legal age and had the capacity to give consent to a marriage relationship. During the period following their divorce in August 2008 until the death
of Mr. Coleman they were legally capable of entering a solemnized marriage. They both generally resided in the home belonging to Mr. Coleman from August 2008 until he died. But that living arrangement did not take on the appearance of a marital relationship as Ms. Price moved in and out on numerous occasions, either out of anger between them or to allow her to pursue another man. There was insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that they mutually assumed marital rights, duties and obligations. Finally, they did virtually nothing to create a public impression of their relationship resulting in a lack of a uniform and general reputation about their status as husband and wife. The requirements ofU.C.A. § 30-1-4.5 have not been established by the evidence. The Court concludes that after the divorce of 2008, Mr. Coleman and Ms. Price did not resume the relationship as husband and wife under the non-ceremonial marriage statute.
Judge J es R. Taylor Fourt Judicial District Court
A certificate of mailing is on the following page. Page 17 of 18
In re Coleman
103400293 Memorandum Decision 5/14/12
Copies of this Order mailed to: Mitchell D. Maughan Todd A. Bradford 765 North Main, Suite 2 Spanish Fork, Utah 84660 Anna Gray 5733 NE Rodney Ave Portland, OR 97211
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