You have requested our opinion as to whether Joyce A. D~ (G~) is eligible for widow's
benefits on the account of Gerald R. G~, number holder (NH).
Ms. D~ and NH never went through a marriage ceremony. Ms. D~ and NH allegedly lived
together since 1973 in Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, and North Carolina. NH died
in January 2002 in North Carolina. Ms. D~ seeks to establish a common-law marriage
based upon visits the couple made to South Carolina. The couple purchased a time share
in South Carolina in 2001, but never stayed there. They visited South Carolina and
stayed in hotels for short stays since the early 1990s. In the 1970s, the couple camped
out near Myrtle Beach for a week.
South Carolina recognizes common law marriage. See Barker v. Baker, 330 S.C. 361, 499 S.E.2d 503 (1998); Kirby v. Kirby, 270 S.C. 137, 241 S.E.2d 415 (1978). If a party claiming common law marriage presents
proof of matrimonial cohabitation and long-term social acceptance of the couple as
married, a presumption arises that the couple entered into a common law marriage.
Barker, 499 S.E.2d at 507. The marriage must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence.
Id. Here, however, Ms. D~ and NH spent only brief amounts of time in South Carolina.
There could not have been long term social acceptance of the couple as married in
South Carolina, as they were only there briefly.
Accordingly, we believe that Ms. D~ would not be entitled to widow's benefits based
upon establishment of a common law marriage in South Carolina.
Very truly yours,
Mary Ann S~
Regional Chief Counsel
Laurie G. R~
Assistant Regional Counsel