Whether F~, the deceased number holder (NH), and M~, the applicant divorced widow
(the claimant), were validly married for at least ten years immediately preceding
the date of dissolution under Idaho law.
Yes. The NH and the claimant were in a common-law marriage that later converted to
a formal marriage, with a total duration of over ten years. Thus, the claimant has
established the marriage duration requirement for entitlement to divorced widow’s
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE
According to the claimant, she and the NH began living together in a husband and wife
relationship in Idaho in July 1983. On August XX, 1983, the NH and the claimant jointly
purchased residential property. They filed joint state and Federal tax returns in
tax year 1984.
In addition, the parties’ siblings submitted “Statement[s] Regarding Marriage.” The
claimant’s sister stated the couple had maintained a home and lived together as husband
and wife since 1982. The NH’s sister indicated the couple had been together since
On November XX, 1989, the NH and the claimant participated in a ceremonial marriage
in Idaho. On March XX, 1999, however, the couple got divorced.
On January XX, 2010, the NH passed away while residing in Georgia. On May XX, 2016,
the claimant applied for widow’s benefits on the NH’s record.
Relevant Federal Law
An applicant may be entitled to widow’s benefits as the surviving divorced wife of
a person who died fully insured if the applicant had a valid marriage with the fully
insured individual that lasted at least ten years immediately before the divorce became
final. 42 U.S.C. § 402(e); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.331, 404.336. In order to determine whether
the applicant and insured individual were validly married, the Agency looks to the
State law where the NH was domiciled at the time of his death. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.344,
Here, the NH resided in Georgia when he died. Absent evidence to the contrary, we
take this as his permanent home and apply Georgia law. District of Columbia v. Murphy, 314 U.S. 441, 455 (1941).
Relevant State Law
When determining the validity of out-of-state marriages, Georgia views the marriage
as a civil contract and applies the law of the forum in which it was made. Norman v. Ault, 695 S.E.2d 633, 636 (Ga. 2010). Since both the ceremonial marriage and the purported
common-law marriage at issue here occurred in Idaho, Georgia law directs us to Idaho
Idaho recognizes two forms of marriage: one is a marriage that is solemnized by a
person authorized to do so, with issuance of a license, as provided by statute; the
other is a common-law marriage. Idaho Code §§ 32-201, 32-301 (2016); Freiburghaus v. Freiburghaus, 651 P.2d 944, 946 (Idaho 1982). While common-law marriage is no longer legal in
the state, this does not apply to any marriages in effect prior to January 1, 1996,
which is the period at issue here. Idaho Code § 32-301(2). In contrast with other jurisdictions, Idaho has never viewed common
law marriage with disfavor. Freiburghaus, 651 P.2d at 946
To establish a common-law marriage in Idaho, the evidence must show the parties consented,
as well as assumed the rights, duties, and obligations of marriage. Wilkins v. Wilkins, 48 P.3d 644, 649 (Idaho 2002). Consent may be either express or implied by conduct.
Id. If consent is implied, the best and most common, although not exclusive, method of
proof is to show cohabitation, general reputation in the community as husband and
wife, and holding oneself out as married; from such evidence, a court may infer that,
at the outset, mutual consent was present. Id. Testimony from one surviving party is sufficient to prove a common-law marriage. Id.
Application of Idaho Law to Current Case
The NH and the claimant were formally married from November 1989 to March 1999, a
period lasting nine years and five months. Thus, the relevant question is whether
a common-law marriage existed for at least seven months immediately preceding the
date of formal marriage.
There is no evidence of express consent to a common-law marriage between the NH and
the claimant. Nevertheless, under Idaho law, the claimant’s testimony, as well as
other circumstantial evidence, sufficiently establishes implied consent.
The claimant stated she and the NH began cohabitating in a “husband and wife relationship”
in July 1983 and continued to do so until March 1999, the date of divorce. In addition,
the couple jointly purchased real estate in August 1983 and jointly filed taxes the
following year, indicating a general reputation in the community as husband and wife.
Moreover, both the claimant’s sister and the NH’s sister agreed the parties presented
as a couple since at least 1986, well before the relevant date of March 1989.
Thus, the testimonial and circumstantial evidence shows the existence of a common-law
marriage between the NH and the claimant, which later converted to a formal marriage
and lasted from at least 1986 through 1999. Accordingly, under Idaho law, and by extension
Georgia law, the NH and the claimant were validly married for over ten consecutive
years immediately preceding the divorce.
It is our opinion that the NH and the claimant were validly married under Idaho law,
and therefore under Georgia law, for at least ten consecutive years immediately preceding
their divorce. Thus, the claimant has satisfied the marriage duration requirement
relating to her application for divorced widow’s benefits.