PR 03185.070 Canada
A. PR 79-017 Fred W~—Arida W~—Sonja W~ Putative Marriage — Canada
DATE: June 8, 1979
Under the law of Quebec, Canada, a marriage which is invalid be- cause of a prior undissolved marriage may' produce civil effects in favor of the innocent spouse if the innocent spouse acted in good faith. Fred —~— CC (L~) to SSA- 6/8/79)
Although the deceased wage earner's marriage to the claimant was apparently invalid because of the existence of the WE's prior undissolved marriage, if the claimant had a good faith belief in the validity of her marriage, under the law of Quebec, Canada, she has the same status with respect to the inheritance of intestate personal property as a legal wife. (W~ Fred .... GC (L~ ) to SSA - 6/8/79)
Where the wage earner dies domiciled in a foreign country, section 216(h)(1)(A) provides that marital status be determined under the laws of the District of Columbia. Therefore, although the claimant's status as a putative spouse would entitle her to the same status with respect to inheritance of the DWE's intestate personal property as a legal wife under the law of Quebec, because the law of the District of Columbia does not recognize the putative marriage doctrine District of Columbia law would not defer to the law of Quebec on this point and therefore, claimant would have neither the status of widow, nor entitlement to share in his intestate personal property for social security purposes. Fred — ~ — GC (L~ ) to SSA - 6/8/79)
You have requested our opinion as to whether Sonja W~ qualifies for mother's insurance benefits as a putative spouse on the deceased wage earner's account under sections 202(g) and 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act.
The facts are as follows:
Fred W~ the wage earner married Arida R~ in 1943. They subsequently separated. In January 1954 the wage earner and Sonja B~ were married in Montreal, Quebec,-Canada and. they lived together in Montreal until the WE's death in 1970. When Sonja filed application for mother's insurance benefits on the WE's account in June 1975, she was denied because the Social Security Administration determined that she was not the WE's widow because his earlier marriage to Arida had never been legally dissolved.
Although Sonja's marriage. to the WE was invalid due to the existence of the prior undissolved marriage, she could nevertheless qualify for benefits on the WE's account under section 216(h)(1)(A) if she would have the same status as a wife under the law which would be applied in determining the devolution of intestate personal property. Specifically, she seeks entitlement based on the putative marriage doctrine, which would allow all of the civil effects of a valid marriage to attach to a marriage which was contracted in good faith without the knowledge of at least one of the parties that an impediment exists which renders the marriage unlawful.
Since the wage earner was a domiciliary of Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the time of his death, we contacted the Law Library, Library of Congress for information on putative marriages and the claimant's rights to inherit as the WE's wife under Canadian law. The report which we received from the Library of Congress indicates that putative marriage, has been recognized in Quebec Province; and that marriage which is invalid because of a prior undissolved marriage, nevertheless produces civil effects in favor of the innocent party who acted in good faith. This report further indicates that in Quebec a putative marriage would have all the legal effects of a legal marriage. (A copy of the report is attached)
In cases such as this where the wage earner dies domiciled in a foreign country, section 216(h)(1)(A) provides that marital status is to be determined under the laws of the District of Columbia. Therefore, we asked the Regional Attorney, Philadelphia whether the District of Columbia would recognize the claimant as the WE's spouse or grant her inheritance rights as the WE's spouse based on the claimant's status as a putative spouse under Canadian law. The Regional Attorney's opinion, which is attached, indicates that the putative marriage doctrine is not recognized in the District of Columbia end therefore, concludes that the claimant has neither the status of widow nor entitlement to share in .his intestate personal property under District of Columbia law.
Consequently, we must conclude that Sonja W~ not entitled to mother's insurance benefits as the putative spouse of the deceased earlier.