This is in response to your request for our assistance in determining whether Mary
G~ is entitled to benefits as the widow of Henry J. G~ We conclude, for the reasons
set forth below, that Mary G~ is not entitled to benefits.
The principal issue in this case is whether Mary G~ and Henry G~ were validly married
in Blaine, Washington on June 28, 1966, or, in the alternative, whether Mary G~ satisfies
the requirements for a "putative spouse" under the law of Minnesota, where the wage
earner died domiciled on October 20, 1980. However, you have supplied us with considerable
information, and the pertinent claims folders, concerning several prior marriages
of both Mary G~ and Henry. Henry was married at least three times prior to 1966, with
each marriage apparently having been terminated in divorce prior to 1966. Mary was
married to Joseph E~ (also Known as Jack B~ ) in Texas in 1920. It is not clear whether
this marriage was void from its inception (because E~ was married in 1921 to Marie
M~ from whom he was divorced in 1939), was terminated by divorce either in 1938 in
Minnesota or in 1947 in Texas, or was terminated by death in 1960 in Minnesota (at
which time he was married to his stepdaughter). Mary later married Alfred E~ in Washington
on December 24, 1948. Alfred died in Oregon in 1965, at which time Mary applied for
and was awarded lump sum death benefits on his account. Following Henry G~ death on
October 20, 1980, Mary applied for and was awarded widow's benefits on E~ account,
and also filed the present application for widow's benefits on G~ account.
On her application dated August 19, 1965 for lump sum death benefits on E~ account,
Mary stated that She had been married to Henry G~ on July 4, 1941 in Minnesota, and
that tills marriage had been annulled in Minnesota in 1942. However, in connection
with her present application for widow's benefits based on the alleged 1966 marriage
to Mary has' denied ever being married to G~ prior to 1966, or ever stating that she
was married to G~ prior to 1966. On the other hand, the file indicates that Mary used
the name G~ in applying for a social security account number in 1943 and also used
the name G~ in applying for a license to marry Alfred E~ in 1948 (although she stated
on the license application that she had not been previously married).
Much of the considerable confusion in the record stems from the numerous conflicting
statements made by Mary in connection with her application in 1965 for lump sum benefits
on E~ account, her own application in 1969 for retirement benefits, her applications
for widow's benefits on both E~ arid G~ accounts in 1930, and from the independent
evidence gathered by the Social Security Administration. Nevertheless, it is apparent
that whether their prior marriages were dissolved by death or divorce or were not
valid to begin with, both Henry G~ and Mary G~ possessed the legal capacity to marry
each other as of June 28, 1966, the date of their alleged marriage. Your memorandum
implicitly assumes that as of that date, neither Henry nor Mary was married to another
person. We therefore find it unnecessary to set forth in greater detail the myriad
facts surrounding their prior marriages. However, as we discuss below, some of these
facts bear on the issue of Mary's good faith belief that she was validly married to
Mary claims that she was married to Henry G~ on June 28, 1966 in a courthouse in Blaine,
Washington by a Judge L~. Although Mary has submitted a personal, undated marriage
record prepared by herself, no marriage certificate or other public or religious record
of the marriage can be located in Whatcom County, Washington (where Blaine is located).
Mary has contended in various statements (which differ considerably as to details)
that immediately after their marriage, she and Henry went to Minnesota to attend the
marriage of relatives, and that when they returned they attempted to obtain a copy
of the marriage certificate, only to discover that either the entire courthouse or
most of its records had been destroyed by a Fourth of July rock concert riot and fire
and a storm. Investigation of these allegations failed to verify the existence of
a judge named L~ in either Whatcom County or the surrounding area, and also failed
to verify that a courthouse in either Whatcom County or the surrounding area had been
destroyed in a riot, fire, or storm in 1966. 1_/ Of the two individuals listed by
Mary as witnesses to the alleged ceremony, one is deceased and the whereabouts of
the other are unknown. No other secondary evidence of probative value exists indicating
that a ceremony took place.
According to Mary's statement, she and Henry lived in Washington from June 28, 1966
(the date of their alleged marriage) until July l, 1975; subsequently, the parties
moved to Minnesota, where they lived until G~ 's death on October 20, 1980. The file
contains numerous statements from friends and relatives indicating that Henry and
Mary held themselves out as husband and wife, although none of these individuals have
knowledge or other indirect reliable information that a marriage ceremony between
Henry and Mary took place. The file also indicates that Henry and Mary filed joint
tax returns, had joint bank accounts, and owned property as Husband and wife. Henry's
will refers to Mary as his wife and makes provisions for Mary's children by Joseph
E~. Mary's statements indicate that she always considered that she and Henry were
husband and wife.
Mary applied for retirement benefits on her own account on June 26, 1969. On her application
at that time, Mary stated that she had married Henry G~ on March 24, 1967, in contrast
to the June 28, 1966 date which she later gave in connection with her 1981 application
for widow's benefits. The file indicates that at the time she filed for retirement
benefits (in 1969), she was informed that she would be entitled to greater benefits
on G~ record 2_/ than she would be entitled to on her own record. Mary declined to
file for wife’s benefits and, according to a report of contact, refused to reveal
any facts concerning her marriage to G~.
Pursuant to the Social Security Act and its implementing regulations, a claimant is
entitled to benefits as the wife or widow of a wage earner on the basis of (1) a valid
ceremonial marriage, (2) a "deemed" or "de facto" marriage, 3_/ a common-law marriage
recognized under applicable state law, or (4) a "putative" marriage recognized under
applicable state law. 4_/ 42 U.S.C. §416(h)(1); 20 C.F.R. §§404.344-404.346, 404.723-404.727;
POMS GN 00305.040. Washington does not recognize common-law marriages (POMS GN 00305.215), and Minnesota does not recognize common-law marriages entered into after April
26, 1941 (M.S.A. §517.01 (West)). Washington has no "putative spouse" statute (POMS
GN 00305.275); however, Minnesota law recognizes as a putative spouse for inheritance and other
purposes "any person who has cohabited with another to whom he is not legally married
in the good faith belief that he was married to that person .... " M.S.A. §518.055
(West). Minnesota's "putative spouse" provision is applicable to all claims for benefits
pending on or after March 1, 1979, regardless of when the marriage took place. POMS
GN 00305.275G; F~ , Arthur L.,~ , RA V (born) to Director, MAMPSC V, 10/22/79; "Minnesota - POMS
GN 00305.435 Regarding Restriction on Remarriage," RA V (!)orn) to Director, IPB V, 11/15/82.
Thus, the issue in this case is whether either (1) a ceremonial marriage between the
parties took place, 5_/ or (2) whether Mary satisfies the requirements of a "putative
spouse" under Minnesota law. Although neither issue is free from doubt, we believe
that the sounder view is that Mary is not entitled to benefits under either possibility.
1. Ceremonial marriage - There exists no primary evidence (a public or religious record)
or secondary evidence (statements of the performing official, witnesses, or other
individuals who know that a marriage ceremony took place, newspaper accounts, or other
probative evidence) that a marriage ceremony took place between Mary G~ and Henry
G~ See 20 C.F.R. §404.725; POMS GN 00305.075 - GN 00305-100. Your memorandum asks only whether Mary G~ may be a "putative spouse"
and thus assumes that no finding of a ceremonial marriage is possible under the facts
of this case. We do not believe that the issue is so simple. An allegation of a ceremonial
marriage, accompanied by a substantial showing of cohabitation and repute, is adequate
to give rise to a presumption that a ceremonial marriage did, in fact, take place.
POMS GN 00305.105. In this case, the inference of a ceremonial marriage is made stronger by the length
of their cohabitation (fourteen years) and the substantial holding out as husband
However, we believe that any presumption of a ceremonial marriage is rebutted by a
number of factors. Among these are: (1) the lack of a consistent, satisfactory, or
verifiable explanation of why no primary or secondary evidence of a marriage ceremony
exists; (2) the lack of proof of the existence of a Judge L~ or of the destruction
of courthouse records near the Washington-Canada border in 1966; (3) the fact that
in her June 26, 1969 application for retirement benefits Mary listed the date of her
marriage to Henry G~ as March 24, 1967, in contrast to the date of June 28, 1966 given
in connection with her 1981 applications for widow's benefits on the accounts of E~
and G~; (4) the fact that she declined at the time of her application for retirement
benefits to apply for more substantial benefits as G~ wife; and (5) the fact that
at that same time she refused to reveal any facts concerning her marriage to G~.
Moreover, although not directly relevant to the issue of a ceremonial marriage, Mary's
numerous misrepresentations and conflicting statements with respect to her past marriages
necessarily bear on the credibility of her allegations of a ceremonial marriage to
Henry G~. For example, with respect to her marriage to Joseph E~, Mary has at various
times stated that she married him in 1928 in Texas, that she married him in 1929 in
Texas, that she was divorced from him in 1939 in Minnesota, that she was divorced
from him in 1947 in Texas, and that she never divorced E~ because she learned that
he was a bigamist. Similarly, in applying for lump sum benefits on Alfred E~ account
in 1965, Mary stated that she had married Henry G~ in 1941 and that the marriage had
been annulled in Minnesota in 1942. However, in her 1981 applications for widow's
benefits on both the accounts of E~ and G~ , she has denied being married to G~ prior
to 1966 or making any prior statement to this effect. On the other hand, independent
evidence in the file indicates that Mary used the name G~ in applying for a social
security account number in 1943 and in applying for a license to marry Alfred E~ in
1947. In our opinion, all of there factors dictate against a finding that Mary and
Henry G~ entered into a ceremonial marriage.
2. "Putative" marriage - The Minnesota statute requires a "good faith belief" on the
part of an individual that he is married to another person, but does not by its terms
require that the parties have gone through a marriage ceremony. M.S.A. §518.055 (West).
Thus, a person may acquire the rights of a "putative spouse" under the statute even
though a ceremony never took place, so long as the person believed in good faith that
he was married. 6_/ A person may therefore be a "putative spouse" on the basis of
a common-law relationship, even though common-law marriages are not recognized as
such in Minnesota. We have found no reported Minnesota appellate case interpreting
this statutory provision.
The facts of this case demonstrate that G~ and G~ and Henry G~ cohabited and held
themselves out as husband and wife. We may assume that Mary G~ considered Henry G~
to be her husband. However, the fact that Mary G~ may have considered Henry G~ to
be her husband does not necessarily equate to a good faith belief on her part that
she was in fact married to him. Mary's past marriages demonstrate an awareness on
her part of the requirements for a valid marriage. Her claim that she is the wife
of Henry G~ is not based on any contention that she was unaware of the requirements
for a marriage or believed that such requirements had been followed. Nor does she
expressly base her claim on the existence of a common-law relationship. Instead, Mary's
claim is based on unverifiable and uncorroborated allegations of a marriage ceremony
which apparently never took place. Moreover, the same factors discussed above with
respect to Mary's numerous conflicting statements and misrepresentations strongly
negate the existence of a good faith belief on her part that she was married to Henry.
Under these circumstances, we believe that the fact Mary G~ considered Henry G~ to
be her husband stems from an awareness and conscious rejection of the requirements
of a valid marriage rather than a lack of knowledge of such requirements or a belief
that such requirements were followed. Mary may well have considered Henry G~ to be
her "husband" despite her knowledge of the requirements for a legally recognized marriage;
the fact remains, however, that Mary had such knowledge. We do not believe that the
Minnesota putative spouse provision may he construed so broadly as to confer "putative
spouse" status on any individual who considers another individual to be his or her
"spouse", particularly in view of the statutory provision against common-law marriages.
M.S.A. §518.041 (West).
We conclude, therefore, that Mary G~ is not entitled to benefits as the widow of Henry
l_/ Although in her November 7, 1980 application for widow's benefits on G~ account,
Mary states that her marriage to G~ took place in Blaine, Washington, in other statements
Mary asserts that she cannot now recall the name of the town in which the ceremony
took place, although the town was near the Washington-Canadian border. No evidence
of a 1966 marriage between Mary G~ and Henry G~ can be located in any of the counties
near the Washington-Canadian border, and there is no evidence of a courthouse in any
of the counties near the Washington- Canadian border being destroyed by fire or storm
in 1966, or immediately prior or subsequent thereto. Moreover, no evidence of a marriage
can be located in Portland, Oregon, where the parties lived prior to June 28, 1966.
Finally, it is not clear from the record whether Blaine, Washington had a courthouse
prior to June 28, 1966, or has one now.
2_/ G~ at that time was receiving retirement benefits.
3_/ A "de facto" marriage is one in which the claimant went through a marriage ceremony
with the wage earner in good faith, although the marriage is later determined to be
invalid due to a defect in the procedure followed or due to a prior undissolved marriage
of one of the parties; the claimant must have been living with the wage earner at
the time the application for benefits is filed (if the wage earner is living) or at
the time of the wage earner's death. 42 U.S.C. §416(h)(1)(B); 2U C.F.R. §404.346.
4_/ A "putative" marriage is one which even though not valid permits a good faith
spouse to inherit under a state's intestate succession law. 42 U.S.C. §416(h)(1)(A);
20 C.F.R. §404.345. A "putative" marriage is distinguished from a "deemed" marriage
(note 3, supra) in that the latter may be established without reference to state law.
5_/ Because, as discussed above, there was no prior impediment to a marriage between
Mary G~ and Henry G~ in 1966, a determination that a ceremonial marriage took place
would make unnecessary any determination as to the existence of a "deemed marriage"
under 42 U.S.C. §416(h)(1)(B). Conversely, if no ceremonial marriage took place, the
"deemed marriage" provisions are inapplicable.
6_/ Because no ceremony is required under §518.055, a "putative" marriage may be found
under §518.055 based upon the relationship of the parties in Minnesota alone.