TN 14 (01-13)

PR 05605.017 Indiana

A. PR 13-027 Common Law Marriage

DATE: November 28, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

We look to the law of Indiana, where the deceased number holder (NH) had a permanent home when he died, to determine whether the claimant is the NH's widow. Based on Ohio case law, the evidence presented establishes that the NH and the claimant entered into a common-law marriage in Ohio in 1978, prior to 1991 when Ohio outlawed common-law marriage. Although Indiana has not recognized common-law marriage since 1958, it does generally recognize marriages validly entered into in other States unless the marriage violates Indiana public policy. The evidence points to clear and convincing evidence of a valid common-law marriage in Ohio before 1991, and it is reasonable to find that the claimant and NH were married under the law of Indiana and that the claimant is the NH's widow.

2. OPINION

INTRODUCTION

You asked whether Karen and Johnny were parties to a valid common law marriage for purposes of Karen’s entitlement to a Lump Sum Death Payment based on Johnny’s earnings record. We conclude that you could reasonably find that the both were validly married under Indiana law at the time of Johnny’s death. 

BACKGROUND

Karen applied for a Lump Sum Death Payment (LSDP) on the basis that she and the deceased NH, Johnny, were parties to a valid common law marriage entered into in Ohio. 

Karen alleged that she and Johnny entered into a common law marriage in February 1978 in Ohio and lived together as husband and wife until January 2012. In support of her claim, Karen submitted a Statement of Marital Relationship, multiple Statements Regarding Marriage, a church record and a bankruptcy filing.

Karen’s Statement of Marital Relationship asserted that although there was no written agreement between herself and Johnny to enter into marriage, both parties considered themselves married and represented themselves to others as each other’s spouse. Karen stated that she and Johnny filed taxes, held credit cards and maintained bank accounts and life insurance policies as husband and wife. Karen indicated that she and Johnny had a child, Joshua , born in August. She further asserted that the couple discussed long term plans, including funeral plans.

Diane, Johnny’s sister-in-law, filed a Statement Regarding Marriage. Diane stated that she considered Karen and Johnny to be husband and wife. She noted that they lived together continuously since 1978, were exclusive and had a child together. She also noted that Johnny and Karen were known as, and referred to each other, as husband and wife.

Patricia, Karen’s sister, also filed a Statement Regarding Marriage. She attested that Karen and Johnny lived together continuously since the 1970s, were generally known as husband and wife, and referred to themselves as each other’s spouses.

Karen submitted a United States Bankruptcy Court filing that listed herself and Johnny as joint debtors. The filing identified them as married. Karen also submitted a church membership record from a church in Ohio. That membership record identifies “Johnny” as the spouse of Karen.

Finally, we understand that SSA’s Numident File shows that Karen changed her last name in May 1980. 

DISCUSSION

An individual is entitled to a lump-sum death payment if, among other things, she shows that she is the widow of the deceased insured individual. 20 C.F.R. § 404.391(a). “To decide your relationship as the insured’s widow . . . , we look to the laws of the State where the insured had a permanent home when he . . . died.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. In this case, Johnny was an Indiana resident at the time of his death. Thus we look to Indiana law to determine whether Karen was Johnny’s widow. 

To the extent that a state recognizes common law marriage, this will suffice to establish that a claimant is the widow of a deceased numberholder. POMS GN 00305.005. Here, however, Indiana has not recognized common law marriage since 1958. Ind. Code. § 31-11-8-5. Indiana, however, does generally recognize marriages that were validly entered into in other states, unless such a marriage violates Indiana public policy. McPeek v. McCardle, 888 N.E.2d 171, 174 (Ind. 2008). Notwithstanding that Indiana has abolished common law marriages, it does not appear that recognizing a common law marriage from another state would violate Indiana public policy. Mason v. Mason, 775 N.E.2d 706, 709 (Ind. App. 2002). Thus, if the parties did enter into a valid common law marriage in Ohio, Indiana would likely recognize that marriage.

Karen alleges that she and Johnny were parties to a valid common law marriage entered into in Ohio in 1978. Ohio outlawed common law marriage in October 1991. Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.12(B)(1). However, the state does recognize valid common law marriages entered into before that time. Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.12(B)(2). To prove the validity of a common law marriage entered into before October 10, 1991, an individual must show by clear and convincing evidence that, prior to October 1991: (1) a mutual contract existed to enter into marriage at the present time; (2) cohabitation of the individuals as husband and wife; and (3) the treatment and reputation of the couple as husband and wife in the community and circle in which they reside. DeCarlo v. Estate of Maxwell, 854 N.E.2d 230, 233 n.2 (Ohio Ct. App. 2006); see also POMS GN 00305.075C.

Proof of a contract to marry may be shown either by direct or circumstantial evidence in Ohio. Nestor v. Nestor, 472 N.E.2d 1091, 1094 (Ohio 1984). Direct evidence may take the form of an affidavit or proof of an informal or unsolemnized ceremony. See, e.g., Jones v. Jones, 2000 WL 1513980, * 2 (Ohio Ct. App. 2000). Where no direct proof is available, a valid contract to marry may be inferred from proof of cohabitation, acts, declarations and the conduct of the parties and their status in their community. Nestor, 472 N.E.2d at 1094. The longer the cohabitation, the stronger the inference that the marriage is valid. Id.at 1095.

There is no direct proof that Karen and Johnny entered into a contract to marry prior to 1991. However, as noted above, Karen presented or alleged significant circumstantial evidence in support of a finding that such a contract existed prior to that date. Karen alleged that she and Johnny lived together for over 22 years in Ohio (1971 to June 1993), were known by reputation as husband and wife, and identified themselves as married on a bankruptcy filing, bank accounts and that they jointly filed tax returns. In addition, Karen changed her name from K~ to S~ with the Social Security Administration, and so represented herself as Johnny’s wife to a government agency. The record also contained an Ohio church record listing Johnny as Karen’s spouse.  Finally, the record contained two declarations by relatives that the couple held themselves out as husband and wife. 

Ohio Courts have recognized the validity of common law marriages where the petitioner presented circumstantial evidence similar to that presented by Karen . In Black v. Hall, 2010 WL 3814586, *4 (Ohio Ct. App. 2010), the Court found a valid common law marriage where the alleged husband and wife demonstrated that they lived together for over 30 years, shared a bedroom and carried on a sexual relationship, traveled together, introduced each other as husband and wife, shared a bank account and household expenses and had an unsolemnized marriage ceremony and certificate. Id. In Bevan v. Bevan, an Ohio Court likewise found a valid marriage where the couple took a honeymoon, lived together for twenty six years, held themselves out as married, received letters addressed to themselves as spouses and one party listed the other as a spouse on health insurance forms. 2006 WL 1519654, *4 (Ohio Ct. App. 2006). Finally, in Baker v. Baker, an Ohio court recognized a common law marriage where the couple lived together for nine years, were listed as spouses on health insurance forms, a will and the deed to their house, received mail as spouses and filed joint tax returns. 2000 WL 1336700, *2 (Ohio Ct. App. 2000).

Based on Ohio case law, the evidence presented or alleged by Karen likely amounts to clear and convincing evidence of a valid common law marriage prior to 1991. And, as discussed above, it would also then be reasonable to conclude that the couple was married under Indiana law at the time of Johnny’s death. 

CONCLUSION

We conclude that if the facts as Karen alleged them are accurate, you could reasonably find that Karen and Johnny were married under Indiana law at the time of Johnny’s death. 

Grace M. Kim
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By: _______________________

Diana Swisher Andsager

Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 04-285 Indiana - Recognition of Indiana Court Determination of Common Law Marriage SSN: ~ Number Holder: Clyde Claimant: Hazel, SSN ~ our Reference: S2D5G6 Our Reference: 04P060

DATE: July 12, 2004

1. SYLLABUS

SSA's determination as to whether the claimant is entitled to benefits as the NH's widow is not bound by the Superior Court determination that she can inherit the NH's intestate property as his surviving spouse, according to SSR 83-37c. Moreover, the evidence submitted to the court and to SSA in connection with her claim do not establish that she is the NH's widow under Indiana law.

2. OPINION

You asked whether, for purposes of determining entitlement to widow's insurance benefits and spouse insurance benefits, SSA is bound by a March 25, 2003 judgment and the findings of the Vigo Superior Court of Indiana. The court decreed that Hazel is entitled to inherit Clyde’s estate as his widow by virtue of a common-law marriage which commenced in 1955. We conclude that SSA is not bound by the State court determination because it is not consistent with what the Indiana Supreme Court would have held. You also asked whether the evidence submitted regarding the couple's relationship is sufficient to establish a valid common law marriage. We conclude that the evidence is not sufficient to establish a valid common law marriage in Indiana.

BACKGROUND

According to the information you provided to our office, wage earner Clyde was entitled to social security benefits from March 1989 until his death on May 30, 2002. Clyde was domiciled in Indiana when he died. On July 25, 2003, Hazel applied for widow's insurance benefits (WIB) on Clyde's account. On her WIB application, Hazel stated that she and Clyde were married by a clergyman or public official in Bloomington, Indiana, on January 1, 1955. Hazel also stated on her WIB application that, before she married Clyde, she had a prior marriage of about six months duration, but she did not remember anything about the marriage or her prior husband. On July 29, 2003, Hazel completed a Statement of Marital Relationship, SSA-754-F4, indicating that there had been no ceremonial marriage between her and Clyde, but they had agreed to be married in 1955 and had lived together as husband and wife continuously since that time. She wrote, "We knew that common law marriage existed under the law of the State of Indiana and knew that by living together for a number of years we were legally married." Hazel indicated that: she was known as Hazel or Clyde when she and Clyde lived together; Clyde's union papers showed her as his wife; and the couple had filed joint tax returns, bought property together, and maintained joint checking accounts. Hazel further stated that she had been married and divorced three times prior to her common law marriage to Clyde. Before she started living with Clyde, Hazel was known by the name Hazel . During the course of further development, Hazel appears to have indicated that her prior marriage to, and divorce from, a man named Clyde took place in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. You have advised that attempts to locate a record of Hazel's prior marriage to Clyde and their subsequent divorce were unsuccessful. You have also advised that Hazel's Numident record shows a name change to J~ in 1956, after she alleges her common law marriage to Clyde began, and another name change to Clyde's last name (K~) in 1967.

Statements were secured from Hazel's sister, Clyde's brother, and Clyde's sister. Clyde's sister, Billie, stated that: she did not consider Hazel and Clyde to be husband and wife, nor were they generally known as husband and wife; she knew Hazel as Hazel J~ or Hazel S~; Clyde had told her that he did not want to get married; and, Hazel had not accompanied Clyde when he visited his family. She indicated, however, that the couple had maintained a home and lived together continuously as husband and wife. In a separate statement, Billie reported that Clyde and Hazel were never married and that Clyde had tried to get Social Security benefits for Hazel, but she had not met SSA's "rules." 1 The statement of Clyde's brother, Gerald , relates the same information as that related by Billie. Hazel's sister, Lucy , stated, however, that she had known Clyde for 50 years, during which time he was married to Hazel, that they were generally known as husband and wife and "always" referred to each other as husband and wife, and that she considered them to be husband and wife. Lucy stated that the couple began living together as husband and wife in 1955 and lived together continuously until Clyde's death. Lucy also indicated that Hazel had been married and divorced three times before she met Clyde.

Additional information submitted in connection with Hazel's claim includes:

  • copies of the presentation page and the marriage record page from a Bible, indicating that the Bible was "Presented to Hazel by Clyde " on March 27, 1956 and that Clyde married Hazel in 1955 (you have indicated that the date when the entries were made cannot be ascertained);

  • copies of pages from Clyde's union dues books for 1976-1980 and 1981-1985, showing Hazel as "wife;"

  • a copy of a warranty deed, dated December 3, 1978, conveying property to "Clyde and Hazel , husband and wife;"

  • a copy of a warranty deed, dated December 14, 1973, conveying property to "Clyde and Hazel , husband and wife;" and

  • an unsigned copy of a 1980 tax return for Clyde and Hazel with the "Married filing joint return" box checked.

Finally, there is a document, dated March 25, 2003, signed by a judge of the Vigo Superior Court of the State of Indiana, entitled "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment." (hereinafter referred to as "Findings & Judgment"). The judgment portion decrees that a common law marriage between Clyde and Hazel commenced in 1955 and continued without interruption until Clyde's death and that Hazel is entitled to inherit all of Clyde's net estate as his surviving widow. Findings & Judgment at 4. The document indicates that Hazel's petition was opposed by Clyde's brother and sister. Findings & Judgment at 1. Among the court's findings of fact are:

  • Hazel and Clyde met in 1955 in Bloomington, Indiana;

  • Before her relationship with Clyde, Hazel was married to, and divorced from, a Mr. J~;

  • Hazel introduced Clyde as her husband to her sisters, Lucy and Dorothy, in 1995;

  • Hazel and Clyde lived in Bloomington, then Lafayette, and finally Terre Haute, where they cohabited over 30 years at the same address;

  • Hazel and Clyde purchased a home in 1973 and adjoining land at a later date, both by warranty deeds, which referred to them as "Clyde and Hazel, husband and wife;"

  • Hazel and Clyde filed sworn joint income tax returns as "married filing joint return" and, in 1997, a sworn application for Unified Tax Credit for the Elderly as a married couple;

  • Clyde left his union pension benefits to "Hazel , wife;"

  • Sometime after 1955, Hazel obtained a beautician's license under the name "Hazel ;"

  • On an application for union benefits, signed by Clyde on April 22, 1987, he indicated he was "not married" and named Gerald as beneficiary;

  • On a registration card for the Welfare Fund Life Insurance, signed by Clyde on April 22, 1987, he named "Hazel - Friend" as beneficiary;

  • Upon admission to a center for mental illness in 1995, Hazel identified Clyde as her husband and stated that she had lived with her husband since 1955;

  • Records from a 1996 admission to the same center show that: Hazel's marital status was "divorced;" she had been living with her "boyfriend" for 20 years; she was "dependent upon her boyfriend, whom she calls her husband, for his retirement benefits;" and, she stated that she wanted to return home to her husband;

  • Gerald and Billie, Clyde's brother and sister, knew Hazel as Hazel J~ or Hazel S~, not as Hazel K~ or as Clyde's wife;

  • Clyde and Hazel were never married by a clergyman, and no marriage license was ever issued to them.

Findings & Judgment at 1-3.

DISCUSSION

One of the requirements for WIB entitlement is that a claimant must be the deceased insured wage earner's "widow." 20 C.F.R. § 404.335. We look to the laws of the State where the wage earner was permanently domiciled at death to determine whether a claimant meets the definition of "widow." 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. If the claimant and the wage earner were validly married under State law at the time of the wage earner's death, or if under State law the claimant would be able to inherit an intestate share of the wage earner's personal property as his widow, the relationship requirement is met. 2 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Because Clyde was domiciled in Indiana when he died, we look to whether Hazel and Clyde had a valid marriage under Indiana law and, alternatively, whether Hazel would inherit a share of Clyde's intestate personal property as his widow under Indiana law.

The Indiana intestate succession statutes provide that a decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to a share of the decedent's intestate estate. Indiana Code Annotated (West 2004) (Ind. Code Ann.) § 29-1-2-1(b). The term "surviving spouse" is not defined in the Indiana probate code.

The Vigo Superior Court of the State of Indiana has decreed that Hazel is entitled to inherit Clyde's estate as his surviving spouse. If SSA honors the State court determination, the relationship requirement for WIB is met. Under Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37c, the Agency is not bound by a State trial court's determination to which it was not a party. The Agency cannot ignore the decision, however, if all four of the following prerequisites are met: "(1) an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits previously has been determined by a State court of competent jurisdiction; (2) this issue was genuinely contested before the State court by parties with opposing interests; (3) the issue falls within the general category of domestic relations law; and (4) the resolution by the State trial court is consistent with the law enunciated by the highest court in the State." SSR 83-37c. See also Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370 (6th Cir. 1973).

Here, whether Hazel can inherit a widow's share of Clyde's intestate estate is at issue in her WIB claim. It is an issue that has been determined by the Vigo Superior Court, which, in the absence of information to the contrary, we presume had competent jurisdiction to decide the issue. Thus, the first of the four requirements is met. The second requirement, that the issue was genuinely contested by parties with opposing interests, is also met. The superior court's findings of fact indicate that Hazel's petition was contested by a brother and sister of Clyde, Gerald and Billie, and that Clyde was not survived by any children or decedents of any children who predeceased him. Findings & Judgment at 1. If the superior court had found that Clyde did not leave a surviving spouse, Clyde's brothers and sisters would have stood to inherit a portion of Clyde's intestate personal property. See Ind. Code Ann. § 29-1-2-1(d)(3) (if there is no surviving spouse and there are no surviving children or survivors of predeceased children, the estate is distributed to decedent's parents, brothers, and sisters). Thus, Clyde's siblings and Hazel had opposing interests. The third requirement for recognition of a State court adjudication is that the issue must fall within the general category of domestic relations law. SSR 83-37c. The Indiana probate code does not specifically define the term "surviving spouse." See Ind. Code Ann. 29-1-1-3 (probate code definitions). We presume, therefore, that the term has its commonly used meaning, i.e., a person legally married to the decedent at the time of the decedent's death. The issue of whether two persons are legally married to each other falls squarely in the category of domestic relations law. See Ind. Code Ann., Title 31 (Family Law and Juvenile Law), Article 7 (Marriage).

The first three prerequisites for recognizing a State trial court's adjudication of an issue having been met, we turn to the last requirement: Is the State trial court's determination consistent with the law enunciated by the highest court in the State? We conclude that the Vigo Superior Court's determination is not consistent with what the highest court of Indiana, the Indiana Supreme Court, would have found had it considered the issue under the same facts.

Before a couple can marry in Indiana, they must obtain a marriage license. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-11-4-1. The Vigo Superior Court found that Hazel and Clyde were never married by a clergyman and no marriage license was ever issued to them. Findings & Judgment at 3. Hazel alleges that she and Clyde entered into a common law marriage. Under Indiana law, a marriage is void, without any legal proceedings, if the marriage is a common law marriage entered into after January 1, 1958. Ind. Code Ann. §§ 31-11-8-1, 31-11-8-5. Thus, to establish a valid common law marriage under Indiana law, Hazel must prove that she and Clyde met the requirements for a common law marriage before January 1, 1958.

To establish a common law marriage in Indiana, there must be proof of a contract to marry, made by words in the present tense between two persons capable of making such a contract, and acted upon by a holding out of such relationship by the parties. Anderson v. Anderson, 131 N.E.2d 301, 305 (Ind. 1956). Both parties must be competent to enter into the contract. Id. The existence of a valid contract must be established by clear and convincing evidence. In re Estate of D~, 222 N.E.2d 285, 291 (Ind. App. 1966). The contract to marry must be an express contract, although it need not be in writing. Anderson, 131 N.E.2d at 306. There must be words to create an offer. Id. Acceptance can be made by words or actions, depending on the terms of the offer. Id. Cohabitation alone is insufficient to establish a common law marriage, although it may corroborate evidence that there was a contract and, in a strong case, it may suffice to draw the inference that a contract existed. Id. Where the contract to marry is oral and not witnessed, even if it is followed by cohabitation, there must also be "a holding out by the parties of their marriage status to at least such part of the public in the community in which they live as is made up of their acquaintances, neighbors, and relatives." A~, 131 N.E.2d at 306, citing Schilling v. Parsons, 36 N.E.2d 958, 960 (Ind. App. 1941).

The Vigo Superior Court made a finding of fact that Hazel married and was divorced from Mr. J~ prior to her relationship with Clyde. Although SSA records indicate that Hazel's Numident record showed a name change to J~ in 1956 and to K~ in 1967, which casts doubt on whether Hazel's divorce preceded her alleged marriage to Clyde, it appears that the superior court did not have that information. For purposes of determining whether the superior court's determination is consistent with what the Indiana Supreme Court would have held, we presume that whatever evidence was presented to the superior court was sufficient to establish that Hazel's prior marriage ended before she and Clyde contracted to enter into a common law marriage and, therefore, Hazel and Clyde were competent to enter into such a contract.

The superior court did not make any finding as to whether Hazel and Clyde actually entered into a contract by words in the present tense in 1955. Such words are a prerequisite to the creation of a common law marriage. A~, 131 N.E.2d at 305. Instead, the superior court found that the contract to marry could be "inferred from all the attending circumstances." Findings & Judgment at 3. It is true that the existence of a contract to marry may be inferred from the circumstances in some cases. See A~, 131 N.E. 2d at 305 (in a strong case, cohabitation may suffice to draw the inference that the couple entered into a contract to marry). We do not believe, however, that the superior court's findings of fact present a strong case from which the Indiana Supreme Court would infer the existence of a contract to marry. Hazel alleges in the materials she submitted to SSA that she and Clyde started living together in 1955 and agreed that they would be married. SSA-754-F4, dated July 2003. Even if we assume that Hazel made the same allegation to the superior court, which is not evident from the Findings & Judgment, there is no allegation that such agreement was made in writing. Under Indiana law, where the contract to marry is oral and not witnessed, even if it is followed by cohabitation, there must also be "a holding out by the parties of their marriage status to at least such part of the public in the community in which they live as is made up of their acquaintances, neighbors, and relatives." A~, 131 N.E.2d at 306. We believe that the evidence recited by the superior court is not sufficient to establish that Hazel and Clyde held themselves out as husband and wife to "such part of the public in the community in which they live as is made up of their acquaintances, neighbors, and relatives." See A~, 131 N.E. 2d at 306.

In Azimow v. Azimow, 255 N.E.2d 667 (Ind. App. 1970), a proceeding to determine heirship, while there was some evidence that the petitioner had claimed to be the decedent's wife, there were also many documents, executed by the decedent and notarized by the petitioner, which referred to the decedent as an unmarried man. A~, 255 N.E.2d at 671. The petitioner contended that the documents referred to the decedent as unmarried because the couple wanted to keep their status as husband and wife secret from the decedent's daughter. A~, 255 N.E.2d at 672. The appellate court rejected this theory of "limited secrecy." Relying on A~ for the requirement that there must be a contract of words in the present tense and a "uniform holding out of the marital relationship in the community of residence," the A~ court stated, "We find the theory of 'limited secrecy' repugnant to the basic requirement that the parties to an alleged common-law marriage uniformly conduct themselves in such a manner as to establish the marital relationship in the eyes of the community." A~, 255 N.E.2d at 672. The facts found by the Vigo Superior Court with regard to Hazel and Clyde's alleged common law marriage include evidence that Hazel and Clyde held themselves out as husband and wife to only some parts of the community, but not uniformly to all of their acquaintances, neighbors, and family members. In 1987, Clyde signed an application for benefits from his union pension fund on which he listed his status as "not married." Findings & Judgment at 2. Forms completed in 1996 to admit Hazel to a treatment facility show her status as "divorced" and "living with her boyfriend for 20 years." Findings & Judgment at 2. Clyde's brother and sister told the court that they knew Hazel as Hazel J~ or Hazel S~, but not as Clyde's wife. We believe that the Supreme Court of Indiana, if it were to examine the same evidence that was presented to the Vigo Superior Court, would conclude that Hazel and Clyde did not meet the requirement of a uniform holding out of their relationship as husband and wife in the community, as enunciated in A~.

Even if we were to assume that the requirements of a contract in the present tense and uniform holding out were met, we would nevertheless conclude that the superior court's determination is inconsistent with the law enunciated by the highest court of Indiana. By Indiana statute, an otherwise valid common law marriage is void if it was entered into after January 1, 1958. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-11-8-5. We located no Indiana Supreme Court cases dealing directly with the sufficiency of evidence to prove that a common law marriage had been entered into before January 2, 1958, as opposed to after January 1, 1958. In In re Estate of S~, 204 N.E.2d 520 (Ind. 1965), however, the Indiana Supreme Court noted that the statute outlawing common law marriages was inapplicable where the petitioner alleged that she and the decedent entered into a contract to marry in August 1956. In re Estate of S~, 204 N.E.2d at 521-22. An Indiana appellate court has explicitly held that, to establish a valid common law marriage, the evidence must establish that the marriage existed prior to the effective date of the statute. In re Estate of P~, 293 N.E.2d 62, 63 (Ind. App. 1973); see also In re Estate of D~, 222 N.E.2d at 292 ("there was clear and convincing evidence of a common-law marriage many years prior to January 1, 1958"). We conclude, based on the statute and the case law that, the Indiana Supreme Court would require Hazel to provide clear and convincing evidence that the requirements for a common law marriage were met before January 2, 1958. The only indications in the superior court's findings that in any way support the conclusion that the marriage contract was entered into before 1958 are the finding that the couple met in 1955 and the finding that, when Hazel was admitted to a treatment facility in 1995, she claimed she had lived with her husband, Clyde , since 1955. Findings & Judgment at 1, 2. These findings, while supporting the conclusion that Hazel and Clyde began living together in 1955, do not provide clear and convincing evidence that they entered into an agreement to marry at that time, particularly in light of later statements made by each of them. All of the superior court's other findings relate to Hazel and Clyde's status after 1958. We find it highly unlikely that, if presented with the same evidence, the Supreme Court of Indiana would conclude that Hazel and Clyde entered into an agreement to marry prior to January 2, 1958. Because we conclude that the Vigo Superior Court's determination is inconsistent with what the highest court of the State of Indiana would have found under the same facts, we advise that SSA need not adhere to the superior court's determination that Hazel is entitled to inherit Clyde's estate as his widow.

Because SSA has additional information which it appears was not before the Vigo Superior Court, the question remains whether the information in the Findings & Judgment, combined with the additional information in SSA's possession, is sufficient to establish, under Indiana law, the existence of a valid common law marriage between Hazel and Clyde for purposes of WIB entitlement. We conclude that it is not. On the whole, the additional information submitted to SSA supports the conclusion that Hazel and Clyde did not enter into a valid common law marriage before January 2, 1958. For example, although Hazel claims that she divorced Mr. J~ prior to the time her relationship began with Clyde in 1955, Numident records show that she changed her name to J~ in 1956 and did not change her name to K~ until 1967. Clyde's sister and brother reported to SSA that they knew Hazel by the names of J~ and S~, not K~, and that Clyde told them he did not want to get married. Like the Numident records, the copies of Bible pages detract from Hazel's claim that they entered into a marriage agreement in 1955 and cast doubt on whether Hazel's prior marriage had terminated and, therefore, whether she was competent to enter into a marriage contract. Although the marriage page states that she and Clyde were married in 1955, the presentation page states that Clyde presented the Bible to "Hazel J~" after that date, which is contrary to Hazel's claim that she was known as Hazel K~ when she lived with Clyde. In addition, in 1987, Clyde stated that he was "unmarried" on a union benefits application, and he listed "Hazel J~" as a "friend" on a life insurance beneficiary designation. Although there is some evidence to support the conclusion that Hazel and Clyde lived together as husband and wife, there is not clear and convincing evidence to establish that the couple entered into a valid common law marriage prior to January 2, 1958. We conclude that the evidence is not sufficient to establish a valid common law marriage in Indiana and, therefore, does not establish Hazel's entitlement to WIB on Clyde's account.

CONCLUSION

We conclude that, the determination as to whether Hazel is entitled to benefits as Clyde's spouse or widow, need not be governed by the Vigo Superior Court's determination that Hazel can inherit Clyde's intestate property as his surviving spouse. We further conclude that the evidence submitted to the superior court and the evidence submitted to SSA in connection with Hazel's WIB claim do not establish that Hazel is Clyde's widow under Indiana law.


Footnotes:

[1]

The materials you provided to our office do not indicate that Hazel previously applied for Title II spouse benefits on Clyde's account.

[2]

You have indicated that Hazel's April 2001 SSI application can serve as a protective filing date for Title II spouse benefits on Clyde's account. No separate analysis is required to determine whether Hazel met the relationship requirement for Title II spouse benefits in April 2001. To be considered Clyde's spouse for Title II spouse benefits, Hazel must have been validly married (or able to inherit a widow's share of Clyde's property if he were to die intestate) under the law of the State in which Clyde was domiciled when Hazel filed her application. 20 C.F.R. § 404.346. Hazel and Clyde were domiciled in Indiana in April 2001. The applicable law in effect in April 2001 does not differ from that in effect on the date of Clyde's death.


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PR 05605.017 - Indiana - 01/15/2013
Batch run: 01/15/2013
Rev:01/15/2013