Leonard, J.c.c. (temporary assignment).
The plaintiff, Irvin Miller, seeks a judgment to quiet title and a declaratory judgment as to four separate premises located in the Borough of Lindenwold, New Jersey.
By deed dated September 13, 1945, said borough conveyed one of said premises to the defendant, John Miller, and Catherine Miller (now deceased), "his wife," and by three separate deeds from three separate vendors, dated August 21, 1931, December 31, 1947, and November 21, 1949, respectively, the three remaining premises were conveyed unto said Catherine Miller.
The said Catherine Miller departed this life intestate on November 24, 1949, a resident of Camden County, leaving surviving her as her only heir-at-law her son, the plaintiff in this cause.
The defendant alleges that he was the common-law husband of said Catherine Miller, deceased. With respect to the first premises he alleges that upon the death of his wife he became the sole owner thereof by reason of a tenancy by the entirety. With respect to the other premises the defendant alleges that as such common-law husband he has an interest therein.
To the contrary, the plaintiff denies defendant was such common-law husband. He alleges that with respect to the first premises he is a tenant in common with the defendant, and with respect to the other three premises he is the sole owner thereof as the sole heir of the deceased, and that the defendant has no interest therein.
The single question to be determined herein is whether or not the defendant, John Miller, was the common-law husband of Catherine Miller, deceased, at the time of her death.
It appears from the evidence that the defendant and the said Catherine Miller, deceased, commenced cohabitation in 1916, and continued such cohabitation until the date of her death. It further appeared from said testimony that at the time they commenced said cohabitation the said Catherine
Miller was married to one Frank Henry, and left him for the purpose of commencing this cohabitation.
The uncontradicted evidence disclosed the following: On October 6, 1930, Catherine Miller secured a divorce from Frank Henry, her husband. She immediately returned to the defendant and advised him that this had been accomplished. The defendant at once suggested that they go to a justice of the peace and be married, but she stated it was not necessary, and at that time there was an exchange of conversations in which he said, "I want you as my wife," and she said, "I am your wife and you are my husband." The defendant assented to this and stated, "I am your husband," and he then placed upon her finger a wedding ring, which he had purchased for such specific purpose, and which ring she wore until her death. Ever since that time to the date of her death they lived together as husband and wife, and considered each other their respective spouse. The testimony of the defendant and the seven other additional witnesses, consisting of neighbors and relatives, clearly disclosed that following the divorce and said conversations they continued to cohabit and held themselves out to the world at large as husband and wife.
It is significant that they purchased property in 1945, to wit, the first premises involved herein, in their joint names as husband and wife; they procured life insurance policies designating each other as beneficiary, and describing themselves therein as husband and wife; procured casualty insurance policies on their property, likewise describing themselves therein as husband and wife; borrowed money from a bank in Clementon in their joint names, and deposited money in said bank in a similar style.
It cannot seriously be questioned that when the cohabitation of these parties commenced that both of them knew of the existence of the prior marriage, and that by reason of this impediment their ...