Court decides case among plural wives
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a dispute between a woman and two others with whom she shared a husband as part of a polygamous marriage.

The appeals court found that Janice Ririe Kunz could not file a declaration of "unsolemnized marriage" after Richard Kunz's death because he was legally married to another woman, and Janice Kunz did not file her petition within the one-year limit per Utah law.

"This case presents the difficult and complicated issues that arise when followers of the doctrine of plural marriage attempt to circumvent Utah law," said the decision written by Judge Carolyn B. McHugh. Judges Judith Billings and James Davis concurred in the decision.

Janice and Richard Kunz were married in June 1953 and later decided to embrace the practice of plural marriage, according to the decision. The Kunzes divorced in 1961 so Richard could legally marry another woman, Rachel, who died in 1994. In 1999, Richard began a "marriage-like" relationship with Lillie Spencer but they were not legally wed, court documents said. That same year, Richard legally married Lynne Kunz, court documents said.

Despite having divorced, Janice and Richard remained in a marriage-like relationship. The couple had two children.

After Richard Kunz's death in 2003, Janice filed a petition for a "judicial declaration of an unsolemnized marriage" with him, copies of which were served to Lillie Spencer and Lynne Kunz. Among Janice's claims are that she wasn't aware of Richard and Lynne's marriage. Janice also contended that Richard married Lynne, a British citizen, so she could stay in the country and participate in a plural marriage with another man who was already legally married. Lillie Spencer and Lynne Kunz each sought to have Janice's petition dismissed in court.

A domestic commissioner and a trial court found that the marriage license between Lynne and Richard Kunz precluded any common-law marriage claim by Janice.

In upholding the lower court's decision the appeals court also noted that Janice had one year from the date of her divorce from Richard to make any common-law marriage claim under Utah law.

Attorney Ronald C. Barker, who represented Lynne Kunz and Lillie Spencer said Thursday he hadn't yet seen the decision and didn't have a comment. But he did say the case was complicated and linked to another case, scheduled for trial in October, where Janice and Richard Kunz's children are questioning a trust left by their father.

"To follow the various marriages and divorces you almost have to have a time line," Barker said.

"There's some other litigation going on," he said. The children contend that "they should have the assets rather than the people he left them to."

He said his clients, Lillie Spencer and Lynne Kunz, contend that Janice was aware of Richard's marriage to Lynne. The marriage made Janice's claims moot, he said.

"When he got married again that terminated his ability to enter into a common-law marriage. It's a lot of to-do over nothing," he said. "The law's the law -- you're married or your not."

William Morrison, an attorney for Janice Kunz, said he couldn't comment until he and his son, Grant Morrison, his partner in the case, had seen a copy of the decision.

Grant Morrison did not immediately return a call for comment.
Originally published Friday, May 5, 2006