Providence County Family Court, No. P13-1615, Associate
Justice Patricia K. Asquith.
Plaintiff: Richard A. Boren, Esq. Jane F. Howlett, Esq.
Defendant: Cristine L. McBurney, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Gilbert V. Indeglia Associate Justice.
defendant, Kevin Gaugler (Kevin), appeals from a Providence
County Family Court judgment granting the request of the
plaintiff, Angela Luis (Angela), for a divorce. Angela alleged
that she and Kevin, although not formally wed, were married
at common law based on their intentions and conduct over the
course of their twenty-three-year relationship. This matter
came before the Supreme Court on April 4, 2018, sitting at
Lincoln High School, for oral argument pursuant to an order
directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues
raised should not be summarily decided. After considering the
arguments set forth in the parties' memoranda and at oral
argument, we are convinced that cause has not been shown.
Thus, further argument or briefing is not required to decide
this matter. For the reasons set forth, we vacate the
judgment of the Family Court and remand for proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
appeal stems from the demise of Angela and Kevin's
relationship, which culminated on July 9, 2013 when Angela
filed for divorce. Having never had a wedding ceremony or
obtained a marriage certificate, Angela and Kevin were never
formally married. Angela claims, however, that their marriage
had been one at common law.
and Kevin lived together from May 1990 until June 2013, along
with Angela's now-adult son, Zach. Although Zach is not
Kevin's biological son, Kevin raised Zach from infancy as
though he were his own son. Still, Kevin and Angela's
relationship imploded in May 2013, when Angela saw Kevin kiss
another woman. On the heels of this indiscretion, Angela
ordered Kevin to vacate their shared abode. Angela filed a
complaint for divorce in July. In that complaint, she
asserted that she and Kevin had been married at common law
since September 6, 1995, pinpointing that date as the one
when she and Kevin decided to represent that they were
husband and wife because Zach was beginning kindergarten.
August 16, 2013, Kevin filed a motion to dismiss Angela's
complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(1) of the Family Court Rules of Procedure for
Domestic Relations, asserting that he and Angela were never
married. However, the trial justice reserved her
ruling on that motion. The trial began on January 29, 2014, and
continued until March 31, 2015. In all, the trial spanned eleven
days, during which numerous witnesses testified, including
both Kevin and Angela. On March 22, 2016, the trial justice
issued a decision wherein she denied Kevin's motion to
dismiss, granted Angela's request for a divorce, and
divided the relevant property largely equally between the
parties. In the decision, the trial justice made
142 findings of fact, the majority of which supported her
determination that there was clear and convincing evidence
that Angela and Kevin were married at common law.
trial, Angela testified on her own behalf. She recalled that,
beginning in May 1990, she and Kevin lived together as
boyfriend and girlfriend until Kevin proposed to her in
December 1991. In September 1995, Zach began kindergarten,
and, according to Angela, she and Kevin agreed to
"commit as husband and wife out in public * * *."
Angela explained that Zach has since referred to Kevin as
"Dad." She testified that she also began
introducing Kevin as her husband at Zach's school in
September 1995, including filling out forms listing Kevin as
Zach's father and as her husband.
continued that, in September 1998, she and Kevin decided to
purchase their shared home, but she chose not to be on the
deed or the mortgage to preserve her credit rating. Kevin
paid the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and utilities, while she
paid for the groceries and Zach's expenses. She also
testified that, prior to September 1995, Kevin began wearing
a wedding ring on his left hand. She said that Kevin's
family referred to her as "sister-in-law" or
"daughter-in-law, " Kevin's parents sent her a
birthday card calling her their "favorite
daughter-in-law, " and Kevin introduced her as his wife
at youth football. Angela also said that, in June 1998, Kevin
began providing health insurance for Angela and Zach, dubbing
Angela his "common law spouse." Moreover, in 2001,
Kevin named her as the sole beneficiary and heir in his will
and, in 2003, the sole beneficiary on his life insurance
plan. However, Kevin's will did not name her as his wife.
Kevin also designated Angela as the primary beneficiary of
his 401(k) plan in December 2000 and again in February 2001,
listing her as his "fiancée" each time.
explained that, from 1990 until 2013, with the exception of
2008 and 2009, Kevin helped her prepare and file her tax
returns. She stated that she always filed her taxes as
"single" or "head of household, " and
that she and Kevin never filed joint tax returns. Kevin also
never claimed Zach on his taxes. Angela further testified
that, in 2008, she filled out a FAFSA form seeking financial aid
for Zach's college tuition, listing herself as
"single"; she stated that she characterized herself
as such because she and Kevin agreed that it would maximize
Zach's potential financial aid.
continued that she and Kevin had a joint bank account from
1995 until 1998, to which Kevin made contributions, but that
since 1998 they had not shared a bank account. She also
stated that she never used Kevin's last name and, when
she went back to work in September 2012, she indicated that
she was "single" on relevant personnel forms.
However, in October 2011, Angela represented herself as
"married" on a dentist office questionnaire.
further testified that she, Kevin, and Zach took family
vacations, during which she and Kevin (and sometimes Zach)
would share a bedroom. When not on vacation, she and Kevin
shared a bedroom, but Kevin would sleep in the basement on
weekends and on nights when he had been drinking.
attested that, in 2000 and again in 2012, she confronted
Kevin with allegations that he may have been unfaithful in
their relationship, but she ultimately believed him when he
denied her accusations. Then, on May 9, 2013, she saw him
kiss another woman and confronted him; Kevin admitted that he
was involved with the other woman and, in turn, Angela
"threw [him] out" on June 7, 2013. Kevin moved into
his girlfriend's home. Angela testified that, thereafter,
she messaged Kevin saying "you gave me the engagement
ring. Yes, we were to get married and things
also testified at trial. He echoed Angela's testimony
that they lived together from May 1990 until June 2013, and
that he had a father-son relationship with Zach. He further
testified that in December 1991, he gave Angela an engagement
ring and asked her to marry him, and that she agreed. Kevin
stated that, although he agreed to conduct himself and
represent himself as Zach's father, he did not consent to
be Angela's husband, and he further said that he never
referred to Angela as his wife.
to Kevin, he bought himself a ring on a 1993 business trip
and wore it on his left hand "on and off" until
2013. However, he said that he did not intend the ring to
signify marriage, and instead wore it on his left hand
because he is right-handed. Kevin said that, while he did
plan to marry Angela at some point in the future, he never
considered himself married to her.
1995, 1996, and 1997, Kevin received "single" heath
care coverage, but he designated Angela as his common-law
spouse on his health insurance plan when she stopped working
in 1998; Kevin maintained that he did so to ensure that Zach
received health care coverage. In 2000, he listed Angela as
the sole beneficiary of his 401(k) plan, characterizing her
as his fiancée. Then, in 2003, he listed Angela as the
primary beneficiary on his life insurance policy,
characterizing her as his "wife." He stated that he
did so only because the human resources department at work
told him that his life insurance policy needed to match his
health care policy. Further, Kevin admitted that he knew he
was lying when he listed Angela as his spouse on his health
insurance for fifteen years. In addition, Kevin represented
that he consistently listed his marital status as
"single" for his pay status at work.
indicated that he purchased his and Angela's shared home
in September 1998 and that Angela did not contribute to the
purchase price, nor was she listed on the deed or the
mortgage. Angela was present at the closing of the home and
was shown the mortgage deed by the closing attorney, which
stated that the grantee was "Kevin Gaugler, an unmarried
man." Kevin paid all the bills associated with the home,
while Angela paid only for the groceries. Further, he
testified that the two had not shared a bedroom since 2008.
stated that he did not help Angela prepare her taxes from
1995 to 2010, but that he did in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
According to Kevin, when he helped prepare Angela's
taxes, he included her representation that she was "head
of household" only because that was the designation that
Angela had used in previous years. Kevin also filed as
"single" from 1995 until he purchased their home.
Moreover, Kevin testified that he went with Angela to prepare
Zach's FAFSA application, and there Angela told him to
say that he was just her friend. He also said that he later
paid the balance on Zach's college tuition.
alleged that, from 1990 until 2008, Angela cooked, cleaned,
and did laundry for him, but she stopped in 2008 when she
quit her job. He also testified that he and Angela had no
joint credit cards and never jointly owned a motor vehicle;
he added that he never paid the taxes on Angela's
vehicles, but he did pay off her vehicle loan. He submitted
that Angela similarly did not pay the taxes on his vehicles.
of Family, Friends, and Acquaintances
other persons testified during trial as well. First, Lynn A.
Poissant, an acquaintance of Kevin, testified that she
believed that Kevin and Angela were married, addressing a
December 2012 holiday card to "Mr. and Mrs. Kevin
Gaugler and Son."
Darlene Gaugler, Kevin's sister, testified that Kevin
updated his will in May 2005, removing Angela as the
beneficiary, and she further testified that Kevin
specifically told her that he and Angela were not getting
married. Darlene had also testified that, although Angela was
listed as Kevin's spouse in their mother's 2008
obituary, Darlene had told the funeral director that Angela