GN ATL00305.030 Presumption Of Validity Of The Last Marriage (PVLM)
See GN 00305.030
Under the laws of all States in our region, the presumption of validity of the last of two or more conflicting marriages is recognized. According to a recent Regional Chief Counsel (RCC) opinion, PVLM is now recognized under the laws of SC. The POMS will reflect this change in the near future.
Where more than one spouse files for benefits, each spouse must provide information sufficient for SSA to determine whether PVLM applies or is rebutted, e.g., whether doubt exists about the termination of the prior marriage or the evidence establishes that the marriage did not end.
B. THE APPLICABILITY OF STATE LAW
In determining marital relationship, apply the law of the State where the NH domiciled when the claim was filed in life cases or the law of the State where the NH died in survivor cases.
C. WHEN PVLM IS APPLICABLE
Prior to initiating PVLM development, resolve any questions concerning the validity of the prior marriage. If the prior marriage was not valid, there is no need to determine whether it terminated or continued.
PVLM should be applied if, after complete development as specified in GN 00305.040, FOs are unable to determine whether a prior marriage terminated or continued. In order to make this determination, however, the whereabouts of the parties to a prior marriage must be traced from the time of separation to the date of the claimant's application in life claims or to the date of the NH's death in survivors claims. If the whereabouts of the parties cannot be traced for the entire period in question, thus, making it impossible for all possible divorce records to be searched, presume that the prior marriage terminated and the current marriage is valid (PVLM).
D. WHEN PVLM IS NOT APPLICABLE
PVLM is not applicable:
When both parties to a prior marriage are available and furnish statements that no divorce or annulment was obtained.
If evidence, i.e., divorce decree, establishes that a prior marriage terminated. In such case, PVLM is no longer an issue as the last marriage is valid based on conclusive evidence that the prior marriage did indeed terminate.
Where parties to the subsequent marriage went through a marriage ceremony and it is more convenient to develop and establish a deemed marriage (GN 00305.055) than to undertake development necessary to apply PVLM.
E. WHEN PVLM IS REBUTTED
PVLM is not conclusive but it is one of the strongest principles known to law in those States that recognize it. However, it may be rebutted when the whereabouts of the parties to a prior marriage have been determined, but a search of divorce records of those jurisdictions fails to reveal evidence of termination.
F. WHEN PRESUMPTION OF DIVORCE APPLIES
If PVLM is applicable, the last marriage is presumed to be valid and the prior marriage is presumed to have terminated by divorce before the last marriage was contracted. FOs should presume that the divorce took place on the first day on which the prior spouse's whereabouts are unknown. If the duration of marriage is material in a claim case, the claimant must provide proof that the former marriage lasted at least 10 years. Such spouse may be entitled to divorced or surviving divorced spouse's benefits if he/she is otherwise eligible.
G. COMPREHENSIVE EXAMPLE OF APPLICABILITY OF PVLM
Paul and Fannie were legally married in Jackson, Mississippi in 1931. They lived together until Paul left for work on June 6, 1944 and never returned. For many years, Fannie did not know Paul's whereabouts. In September 1991, Paul's cousin informed Fannie that Paul died in Macon, Georgia on January 20, 1991. His cousin was not aware of the places Paul had lived before he moved to Georgia, but knew that he had lived in several other States. The cousin, who is age 92 and has bad memory, is Paul's only known surviving relative.
Fannie filed for widow's benefits in November 1991 because she had never divorced Paul nor had she received notice that Paul had divorced her. However, Paul's third wife, Mary, had already filed for widow's benefits on his record.
The FO obtained the file from the PSC. Paul's RIB application indicated that he married Fannie in the early 1930s in Jackson, Mississippi but he divorced her in Miami, Florida in the late 1940s. His application also indicated that he married Patsy in Detroit, Michigan in the 1950s but she died in 1961. His last marriage was to Mary in 1962. They were married in Macon, Georgia where they lived until his death in January 1991. Mary's application provided essentially the same marital history about Paul, except that it did not mention his first marriage to Fannie.
Mary was contacted for information concerning the places Paul had lived after he and Fannie separated in June 1944 but she was unable to provide any additional information. Other than Detroit, she was not aware of the other places Paul had lived before they met. She only knew that he travelled from place to place with a circus, which is now defunct.
Divorce records were searched in all known places of residence, based on the marital history on the NH's application, but no evidence of a divorce was found.
Because the FO is unable to determine exactly where Paul had lived after he and Fannie separated in 1944, the appropriate divorce records could not be searched. Therefore, the NH's last marriage to Mary is presumed to be valid under the laws of Georgia, the State of domicile when he died. Also, Mary is presumed to be Paul's legal spouse under the laws of the other States in our region, including SC.
Because Mary is considered Paul's legal spouse based on the application of PVLM, FOs should presume that the divorce between Paul and Fannie took place on June 6, 1944, the day Paul's whereabouts were first unknown. Therefore, since Fannie meets the 10-year duration of marriage requirement, she may be entitled to surviving divorced spouse's benefits if she is otherwise qualified.
Had a divorce decree been obtained, PVLM would not apply in this case. However, Mary would still be considered the legal spouse based on evidence that Paul's prior marriage to Fannie did indeed terminate.
Had the FO been able to trace Paul's whereabouts for the entire period in question (from June 6, 1944 to January 20, 1991), and no divorce decree was found during the search of the appropriate jurisdictions, PVLM would be rebutted and Fannie would be considered Paul's legal spouse for SSA purposes. If this were the situation, Mary would be entitled to deemed widow's benefits if she meets those requirements and is otherwise qualified.