TN 44 (09-13)
GN 00305.076 Applying State Law Time Limits to Common-Law (Non-Ceremonial) Marriages
A. Policy about applying state law time limits to common-law (non-ceremonial) marriages
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 GN 00305.075).
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 exists;
a probate court ruling that establishes a claimant's right to inherit as a widow(er) based on a common-law relationship;
a divorce decree; or
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 01010.815.
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.
B. Reference chart for Texas time limit policy and COP
Use this chart to reference the applicable time limit policy.
C. Applying time limits to common-law marriages in Texas
The following time limit policy applies to common-law marriages in the State of Texas.
1. One-year time limit (effective for applications filed 08/01/1994 through 08/31/1995)
Texas statutory law required an unproven common-law marriage to be proved in a proceeding (for examples, see GN 00305.076A in this section) that commenced no later than one year after the date the relationship ended or was considered void. However, we did not apply any state law time limits for proving a common-law marriage until 08/01/1994, as explained in GN 00305.076A in this section. Thus, we applied the one-year time limit for proving a common-law marriage in Texas to applications filed on or after 08/01/1994 through 08/31/1995.
2. Two-year time limit (09/01/1995 through 01/16/2003)
On 09/01/1995, Texas changed the statutory one-year time limit for proving the existence of a common-law marriage to a two-year time limit. Under the two-year time limit, an unproven common-law marriage must be proved in proceedings (see examples listed in GN 00305.076A in this section) that commenced no later than two years after the date the relationship ended or was considered void. We applied the two-year statutory time limit from 09/01/1995 through 01/16/2003.
3. Applying Texas State law
With respect to both the one-year and two-year time limits, a common-law marriage is void unless the claimant provides evidence that proves the common-law marriage:
in a Declaration and Registration of Informal Marriage (recorded by a county clerk), or
through a judicial, administrative or other proceeding in which the common-law marriage was an issue (for details, see GN 00305.076A in this section). If the claimant could not show that the common-law marriage had been proved, the claimant was required to file an application for benefits within the one-year or two-year time limit (as applicable) and provide evidence proving the common-law marriage by showing that the man and woman agreed to be married and thereafter:
If the claimant could not show that the common-law marriage had been proved or the claimant did not file an application and provide evidence proving the common-law marriage within the time frames, consider the marriage void.
4. Current policy on time limits (effective 01/17/2003)
On 01/17/2003, we changed our position that a claimant’s failure to prove a common-law marriage within the applicable time limits absolutely barred the claimant from ever proving the existence of a common-law marriage. Court decisions issued after enactment of the statutory time limits required us to reconsider our position that Texas law imposed time limits as an absolute bar to a claimant proving a common-law marriage.
As a result, for all applications filed or pending as of 01/17/2003 or later, presume that no common-law marriage occurred unless a claimant has:
shown that the common-law marriage has already been proved; or
filed an application for benefits within the applicable time limits and provided proof (i.e., cohabitation and holding out) of the existence of a common-law marriage by a preponderance of the evidence.
Therefore, at any time after 01/17/2003, a claimant can rebut our presumption that a common-law marriage did not occur by proving by a preponderance of evidence that it occurred. To meet the preponderance of evidence standard, evidence of cohabitation and holding out must prove the establishment of a common-law marriage. For instructions about reopenings, change in ruling or legal interpretation, and change of position, see GN 04001.100.
b. Time limits not met and presumption cannot be rebutted
If the time limit for proving a Texas common-law marriage is not met and the presumption cannot be rebutted, the parties are considered never to have been married (i.e., the marriage is void). Entitlement to benefits based on the marriage is precluded.
D. When to submit a special issue on proving a common-law marriage in Texas for a Regional Chief Counsel (RCC) opinion
Submit a request for a legal opinion to the RCC per GN 01010.815 in the following situations:
The claimant attempts to prove that he or she initiated a proceeding to prove a common-law marriage between 08/01/1994 and 08/31/1995.
The presumption that no common-law marriage occurred is at issue. Effective 01/17/2003, request an RCC legal opinion if a claimant files an application for benefits based on an unproven common-law marriage after the one-year or two-year limit (whichever is applicable) has expired. The RCC will determine if the claimant provided a preponderance of evidence to rebut our presumption that no common-law marriage occurred.
Multiple marriages are alleged; a common-law marriage, once established, can only terminate by death, divorce, or an annulment. Therefore, the validity of a marriage could be at issue if it is questionable whether a prior common-law marriage (either the claimant’s or the NH’s) was properly terminated, before the marriage between the claimant and the NH was contracted. However, if the prior common-law marriage was never valid, proper termination would not be at issue. The validity or proper termination of a prior common-law marriage may be at issue:
1. Status of children from a Texas common-law marriage
Children born of a Texas common-law marriage that has not been proved timely in a Texas proceeding, are legitimated from birth.
2. Applying time limits to common-law marriages in Utah
The following policy applies to common-law marriages in the State of Utah.
The process of finding a relationship to be a valid unsolemnized marriage must be initiated within one year after the termination of the relationship. The actual order establishing the marriage need not be entered within one year.
The one-year time limit is satisfied if an applicant seeking to prove a common-law marriage:
presents a favorable determination from a Utah judicial or administrative proceeding, or
files an application no later than one year after the relationship ended (usually the date of separation or death). The determination does not have to be made before the end of the time limit.
If an applicant does not meet one of the two alternatives above, entitlement to benefits based on the marriage is precluded.
If a Utah common-law marriage has not been proved timely in a Utah proceeding, under Utah law, the marriage never existed.
Submit to the RCC Denver any case in which an applicant:
is entitled to spouse (or widow(er)’s) benefits based on a common-law marriage;
has not proved timely his or her common-law marriage in a Utah proceeding; and
Follow the procedures for requesting a legal opinion in GN 01010.815.