Case of the Day: Dion v. Rieser

The case of the day is Dion v. Rieser (N.M. Ct. App. 2012). Richard Rieser died intestate in 2007. He was unmarried and had no children, and he owned property both in New Mexico and in Australia. He was survived by his partner, Margaret Anne Dion; the two had lived together at various times in Australia, New Mexico, and Indonesia.

Dion had sought letters of administration for Rieser’s estate in New South Wales. In Dion v. Rieser [2010] NSWSC 50, the Australian court found that Dion was Rieser’s de facto spouse at his death. After the Australian judgment, Dion asked the New Mexico district court, where a probate petition was pending, to be appointed administratrix of the estate in light of her status as de facto spouse. The district court held that while New Mexico recognizes so-called common law marriages if they were valid where they arose and were consummated,1 but that the status of de facto spouses under Australian law is not equivalent to the status of common law spouses under New Mexico law, and thus the Australian judgment does not compel the New Mexico courts to treat Dion as Rieser’s wife for purposes of deciding whether she was entitled to administer his estate.

The court of appeals agreed. The decision ultimately didn’t come down to whether the Australian judgment was entitled to comity. Instead, the issue was whether, assuming the Australian judgment were entitled to comity, its findings of fact and conclusions of law had any implications in the New Mexico proceeding. So the case is not, strictly speaking, within Letters Blogatory’s scope of coverage, but it’s interesting anyway.

  1. A common law marriage is a marriage entered into without a license from the state, and typically they require that the couple not just make a marriage contract but that they hold themselves out to the world as husband and wife. The name “common law marriage” is actually a fairly good one, since at common law spouses could marry by making a present contract to marry, or by making a contract to marry in the future and then consummating the marriage. Only later, by statute, was the requirement imposed of a marriage license from the state, or the presence of an officiant.

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