TN 33 (11-16)

PR 05005.015 Idaho

A. PR 17-005 Evaluation for Payment of Benefits - Marital Relationship Duration when Marriage and Common-Law Marriage both Involved

Date: October 6, 2016

1. Syllabus

The number holder (NH) and the Claimant were in a common-law marriage in Idaho which later converted to a formal marriage, but the couple divorced in March of 1999. The NH passed away while residing in Georgia; therefore, we apply the Georgia law. 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 in our opinion that the claimant has satisfied the marriage duration requirement relating to her application for divorced widow’s benefits.

2. Opinion


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 benefits.


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 1986.

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, 404.345.

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 law.

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