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.