Duncan v. Duncan

754 S.E.2d 451 (2014)

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Duncan v. Duncan

North Carolina Court of Appeals
754 S.E.2d 451 (2014)

Facts

In 1989, Barbara Duncan (plaintiff) and John Duncan (defendant) were married by Hawk Littlejohn, a Cherokee medicine man, in a traditional Cherokee wedding ceremony. Littlejohn was also ordained as a minister by the Universal Life Church, which allowed laypersons to purchase ministerial credentials. Prior to the Duncans’ marriage, North Carolina had declared that all marriages performed by Universal Life Church ministers were invalid, except those performed prior to July 1981. In 2001, Barbara and John participated in a second formal marriage ceremony because their estate-planning attorney was concerned that the 1989 marriage might be invalid. The 2001 marriage was performed by a Presbyterian minister. In 2005, Barbara filed for divorce and alleged that the date of marriage was in 1989. John challenged, arguing that the 1989 marriage was invalid because Littlejohn had not been authorized to perform a marriage ceremony under North Carolina law and, therefore, that the Duncans were not validly married until 2001. The trial court ruled in Barbara’s favor, holding that the parties were validly married in 1989. Specifically, the court held that (1) the approval of marriages performed by Universal Life Church ministers prior to July 1981 also applied prospectively to the Duncans’ 1989 marriage and (2) even if the 1989 marriage was voidable because Littlejohn was not an authorized officiant, John was barred by both judicial estoppel and equitable estoppel from contesting the validity of the 1989 marriage. John appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Dillon, J.)

Concurrence (McGee, J.)

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