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Watkins v. Watkins

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 1, 2015

Kathy Renea Howard Watkins
Ryan Watkins, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Robin Dale Watkins, deceased

         Released for Publication May 4, 2016.

          Appeal from Etowah Circuit Court. (CV-12-249). David A. Kimberley, Trial Judge.

         For Appellant: Jack Floyd of Floyd Law Firm, LLC, Gadsden.

         For Appellee: Laura T. Lloyd of Turnbach, Warren, Lloyd, Frederick & Smith, P.C., Gadsden.

         MOORE, Judge. Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.


         MOORE, Judge.

         Kathy Renea Howard Watkins appeals from a judgment of the Etowah Circuit Court (" the trial court" ) concluding that she and Robin Dale Watkins, who is deceased, were not married at common law. We affirm.

         Procedural History

         On June 7, 2012, Kathy filed a complaint in the trial court, asserting, among other things, that Robin Dale Watkins (" Rob" ) died intestate on March 1, 2012; that Kathy and Rob had been married at common law; and that the named defendants, Ryan Watkins, individually and as personal representative of Rob's estate, and Savannah Jade Watkins, denied that Kathy was Rob's widow.[1] Kathy sought a judgment declaring that she was the wife of Rob at the time of his death and that she was entitled to share in Rob's estate. Ryan and Savannah are Rob's son and daughter, respectively. The defendants answered the complaint. A trial was held on July 11, 2013, November 13, 2013, and April 2, 2014. On April 18, 2014, the trial court entered a judgment concluding that Kathy and Rob had not been married at common law. Kathy filed a postjudgment motion on May 14, 2014; that motion was denied on July 30, 2014. Kathy filed her notice of appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court on September 2, 2014; that court transferred the appeal to this court, pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 12-2-7(6).


         Kathy testified that she first met Rob in January 2008, while both she and Rob were still married to, but separated from, their respective spouses; she stated that, at that time, she was living in Ashville and Rob was living in Centre. Kathy stated that Rob had obtained a divorce from his former wife on February 20, 2008, and that she had obtained a divorce from her former husband in April 2008. According to Kathy, both parties had children from their previous marriages. According to Kathy, she and Rob first became good friends, but, she said, they had met in Orange Beach in June 2008 and had told each other they loved one another and had been together from that point forward. She testified that Rob had asked her to marry him and that she had said yes but that he had said that they " could not go through a ceremony" because he and his former wife continued to own business enterprises together and he was concerned that his remarriage would affect his ability to buy out the interest in those companies from his former wife, and, Kathy said, she had agreed to that arrangement. Kathy stated, however, that she and Rob had gone on a trip to a resort in Jamaica on December 31, 2008, that that trip was their honeymoon, and that, during that trip, Rob had said to her that she was his wife and that he had to be submissive to her. She testified that, also during that trip, she had told people at the resort that she and Rob were husband and wife.

         Kathy testified that, when she and Rob returned from Jamaica, Rob began staying with her and her children at her home in Ashville on Mondays and Wednesdays when he was nearby for work; that he stayed by himself on Tuesdays and Thursdays, closer to his work in Centre; and that, on the weekends, she and her children and Rob stayed at her and Rob's home in Gadsden (" the white house" ), which, she said, Rob had purchased and moved into after showing her the house before they went to Jamaica. According to Kathy, she and Rob had maintained the separate households in Ashville and Gadsden until April 2011, when a tornado destroyed her home in Ashville and she and her children moved into the white house with Rob. Kathy testified that Rob had been a role model for her children, that he had been " their father," and that they had called him " their stepdad."

         Kathy stated that Rob had given her a set of rings, an engagement ring and a wedding ring, on July 30, 2011, after Rob's former wife remarried. She stated that, on that occasion, he knelt down, sang her a song, and gave her the engagement ring; she stated that he had given her the wedding band the next night. She stated that he had asked her to change her relationship status on the Facebook social-networking Web site status at that time, but not to marry him, because they had already been married. The defendants presented a copy of a photograph that had been posted on Kathy's Facebook page on July 30, 2011, which Kathy admitted was a picture of her ring, with the caption: " My marriage proposal ...." Kathy denied that she had written that caption using the word " proposal," and she asserted that her Facebook account had been hacked and that the caption had been altered. Kathy testified that, from the time she met Rob until the time of the trial, she had been a teacher at a school in St. Clair County. Kathy admitted that her class's Web page listed her name as Kathy Howard, her maiden name. She testified that she had never changed her name at the school or on her Social Security card and that she had gone by " Kathy Howard," although, she stated, she had introduced herself as Kathy Watkins when she was out of town.

         According to Kathy, she and Rob had purchased airline tickets and had made reservations to return to the resort in Jamaica where they had gone in 2008 with all of their children, Kathy's parents, and Kathy's sister and her husband on March 25, 2012, " to renew a vow that [Rob] and [Kathy] had already made together." Kathy testified that, after those reservations had been made, Rob had been involved in a car accident, that he had been airlifted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital, and that life-support systems had been placed on him. She stated that Rob's son, Ryan, had asked her to make the decision to remove Rob from life support because she was his wife, that she had made the decision, and that Rob had died on March 1, 2012.

         According to Kathy, she and Rob had not had a joint bank account but, instead, had maintained separate checking accounts. She stated that she and Rob did not have any jointly owned real estate or credit cards and that she and Rob had filed separate tax returns, although, she said, she had filed her 2011 tax return as " married, separate" on January 28, 2012. She testified, however, that Rob had filed his 2011 tax return separately as a single man. Kathy admitted that she and Rob had not held anything jointly as husband and wife and that her name was not on the deed to the white house. Ryan's attorney presented as an exhibit a document that Rob had completed for a doctor's office in Gadsden, dated November 4, 2011, in which he listed " Kathy Howard" as his emergency contact and listed his marital status as " divorced."

         Luther Gartrell, an attorney in Ashville, testified that he was a friend of Rob and that he had known Kathy most of her life. Gartrell testified that, in the fall of 2008, Rob had visited Gartrell's office and had asked Gartrell what a common-law marriage was and had told Gartrell that he was planning on being common-law married to Kathy. Gartrell stated that Rob had told him in early 2009 that he and Kathy had gotten married in Jamaica. According to Gartrell, he had heard Rob tell people that he and Kathy were married and, as far as he knew, the fact that they were married was common knowledge. Mary Ann McCullars testified that she had met Kathy and Rob on December 31, 2008, in Jamaica at a resort; that Rob had introduced Kathy as his wife; and that Rob and Kathy had told McCullars and her boyfriend that they were in Jamaica on their honeymoon. Joan Roby, a janitor at the school where Kathy works, testified that she had met Rob early in his and Kathy's relationship and that she had seen him often. Roby testified that, following the Jamaica trip, Rob had told Roby that he and Kathy were married and that Kathy was his wife. According to Roby, among other friends and in her opinion, Kathy and Rob had had a reputation of being husband and wife.

         Laura Ann Carter, who teaches with Kathy, testified that she had known Rob for close to six years; that, after Rob and Kathy had returned from Jamaica, Rob had said that Kathy was his wife and that they were married. Carter stated that she and her husband had gone to Talladega with Kathy and Rob in October 2009 and that Rob had introduced Kathy as his wife to a business associate. According to Carter, Kathy and Rob had had a reputation among their friends of being husband and wife. Paula Westbrook, Kathy's sister, testified that she had first met Rob in 2007; that, after the trip to Jamaica, Rob had said that Kathy was his wife; and that she had heard Rob introduce Kathy as his wife on a number of occasions. Paula also testified that Rob had ...

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