You have asked for a legal opinion regarding the validity of a marriage in which the
applicant and the spouse entered into a ceremony prior to the expiration of the State-mandated
The claimant, Deborah J. B~, and her putative spouse, Douglas H~, applied for a marriage
license on February 2, 1998, in the State of Washington. Two days later on February
4, 1998, Reverend Steve P. S~ performed the marriage ceremony and signed the Marriage
License. Two individuals, Jon and Sandy M~, witnessed the ceremony.
Recently, Ms. B~ filed for widow's benefits on the record of Robert A. J~, SSN ~,
her previous husband. She claims that her marriage to Mr. H~ is not valid.
For the reasons set forth below, we find that the marriage of Deborah J. B~ and Douglas
H~ is a valid but voidable by court decree.
Section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 416(h)(1)(A), provides:
An applicant is the wife, husband, widow, or widower of a fully or currently insured
individual for purposes of this title if the courts of the State in which such insured
individual is domiciled at the time such applicant files an application, would find
that such applicant and such insured individual were validly married at the time such
applicant files such application . . .. If such courts would not find that such applicant
and such insured individual were validly married at such time, such applicant shall,
nevertheless be deemed to be the wife, husband, widow, or widower, as the case may
be, of such insured individual if such applicant would, under the laws applied by
such courts in determining the devolution of intestate personal property, have the
same status with respect to the taking of such property as a wife, husband, widow,
or widower of such insured individual.
Two Washington statutes address the requisites of ceremonial marriage. The first states:
Before any persons can be joined in marriage, they shall procure a license from a
county auditor, as provided in RCW 26.04.150 through 26.04.190.
Wash. Rev. Code § 26.04.140 (1998). The second statute states:
The county auditor may issue the marriage license at the time of application, but
shall issue such license no later than the third full day following the date of the
application. A marriage license issued pursuant to the provisions of this chapter
may not be used until three days after the date of application and shall become void
if the marriage is not solemnized within sixty days of the date of the issuance of
the license, and the county auditor shall notify the applicant in writing of this
requirement at the time of issuance of the license.
Wash. Rev. Code § 26.04.180 (1998). In the present case, Ms. B~ and Mr. H~ should
have waited until February 5, 1998 (which is three days from the date of the marriage
application) to marry. Instead, they married one day early.
A marriage that does not comply with the three-day waiting period required by § 26.04.180
is voidable. Estate
of Alda May Thomas Crittenden v. Crittenden, 29 Or.App. 189, 191 (1977) (applying Washington law). A “voidable marriage
is valid for all purposes until annulled, and can be attacked only
in a direct proceeding during the lifetime of both spouses.” Romano
v. Romano 40 Wash.2d 796, 803-04 (1952). In other words, the marriage remains valid until it
is set aside by court decree in an action brought during the lifetime of the spouses. Id. at 803. In this case, there is no evidence that Ms. B~ or Mr. H~ has filed a court
action to annul or set aside the marriage. Until one or the other files the court
action and obtains a court decree, the marriage remains valid for all purposes.