Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Enoch Arden Law Definition:

A statute that confers validity on a second marriage of a missing person's spouse after a specified absence.

Similar to presumption of death statutes, Enoch Arden laws are so-called after a Tennyson poem Enoch Arden in which the main character returned home after a long shipwreck, to find his wife had remarried. Upon discovering this, he graciously kept his return a secret so that his ex-wife could continue her happy marriage to her new husband.

Fenton and Kaufmann:

"Enoch Arden statutes provide that a good faith belief in the death of one's spouse predicated upon his/her absence for a period of years will sheild the remarrying partner from criminal bigamy charges.

"In some jurisdictions, the staute provide that in addition to raising a shield to bigamy, the passage of a certain number of years will give a subsequent marriage a legal status...."

In law, the doctrine of Enoch Arden is explained as follows by James D. Primm writing in the Ohio State Law Journal:

"At common law, courts uniformly held that a marriage by one already legally married was void. This rule was not altered by the fact that one spouse to the first marriage had been unexplainedly absent when the second marriage was consummated.

"This strict rule resulted in great hardship....

"The common law rule voiding the second marriage was based partly on the presumption that the absentee spouse was still alive. To modify the harsh result in the Enoch Arden situation, the courts began to impose a presumption of death after a certain period of unexplained absence.... Aided by this presumption, the abandoned spouse may remarry and suffer no consequences provided the Enoch Arden remain absent.

"The presumption may be rebutted, however, by a showing that the absentee spouse was alive when the second marriage occurred. When this is shown, the second marriage will be declared void ab initio."

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