SSA policy on applying state law time limits to common-law marriages represents a
change of position (COP) and is effective with applications filed or pending on or
after 01/17/2003. Where we can establish a protective filing date of 07/31/1994 or
earlier (e.g., based on a protective writing), the pre-08/01/1994 rules apply (see
State law time limits affect how we treat spousal relationships. For an explanation
of how we apply Texas’ time limits for establishing a common-law marriage, including
a subsequent COP on 01/17/2003, see GN 00305.076B in this section. For an application of how we apply Utah’s time limit, see GN 00305.076D.2. in this section.
Under this policy, SSA can determine that a claimant is the insured's spouse or widow(er)
provided the claimant files an application for benefits within the state's time limit
or the claimant provides evidence that the common-law marriage was already proven
in a timely state administrative, judicial determination, or other proceeding.
A state administrative, judicial, or other proceeding may include:
an administrative proceeding that awards Worker's Compensation benefits to a spouse
on the basis of a common-law marriage;
any court determination that, as part of its ruling, finds that a common-law marriage
a probate court ruling that establishes a claimant's right to inherit as a widow(er)
based on a common-law relationship;
a favorable determination by an employer to grant a claimant’s application to obtain
the number holder’s (NH) pension benefits as a spouse or widow(er) on the basis of
a common-law marriage. (For details, see PR 05605.048B.)
NOTE: We must consider an adjudication of a state trial court if the claimant meets the
criteria in Gray vs. Richardson (for details, see Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37C ).
Submit any questionable judicial, administrative, or other proceeding to the Regional
Chief Counsel (RCC), following the procedures in GN
If we determine that a common-law relationship exists, generally the factual findings
are conclusive and apply to subsequent unadjudicated periods as well (e.g., once we
establish a common-law marriage and authorize a lump sum death payment (LSDP) or award
spouse's benefits, widow(er)'s benefits are payable without re-establishing under
state law that a valid common-law relationship existed).
Once entitled, failure to prove the marriage timely in a state judicial, administrative,
or other proceeding does not result in a divorce or annulment and, therefore, is not
a basis for terminating benefits.