TN 2 (01-12)

PR 05630.016 Argentina

A. PR 12-025 Maria’s Entitlement to Wife’s Insurance Benefits Based on Her Relationship with Juan

DATE: December 5, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

Argentina does not recognize common-law marriage. Argentina only recognizes as valid civil marriages celebrated with a civil marriage ceremony.  The couple did not celebrate their relationship with a civil marriage ceremony, and their relationship is not a valid marriage under Argentine law.

2. OPINION

I. Issue

You asked whether Maria (the claimant) qualifies as Juan (the NH)’s wife for purposes of determining her entitlement to wife’s insurance benefits under the Social Security Act.

II. Opinion

The claimant does not qualify as the NH’s wife for purposes of determining her entitlement to wife’s insurance benefits.  The claimant was not validly married to the NH at the time she applied for benefits, nor does the claimant have the same status as a wife of the NH under intestacy law.  

III. Background

The claimant and the NH, both of whom reside in Argentina, allege that they entered into a common-law marriage in September 2009. Since that time, the claimant and the NH have lived together and have held themselves out to others as husband and wife. However, the claimant and the NH acknowledge that their relationship has not been celebrated with a civil marriage ceremony.  They stated that they plan to have a civil marriage ceremony in the future, but have not yet done so because they are waiting for “certificates . . to be legalized.” In November 2010, the claimant applied for wife’s insurance benefits on the NH’s earnings record. 

IV. Discussion

Under the Social Security Act, a claimant may be entitled to wife’s insurance benefits if she is the wife of an insured individual. See Social Security Act § 202(b)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 402(b)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330(a). As pertinent here, the Act provides two means by which a claimant may qualify as the wife of an insured individual who is domiciled outside the United States.  First, a claimant is the wife of such individual if the courts of the District of Columbia would find that she was validly married to him at the time she applied for benefits. See Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.305.  Second, even if the claimant was not validly married to the insured individual at the time she applied for benefits, she will be deemed to be his wife if, under the law applied by the courts of the District of Columbia in determining the devolution of intestate personal property, she would have the same status as a wife. See Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.

A. The Claimant Was Not Validly Married to the NH

Under District of Columbia law, the validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage was entered into. See McConnell v. McConnell, 99 F. Supp. 493, 494 (D.D.C. 1951); Carr v. Carr, 82 F. Supp. 398 (D.D.C. 1949); Gerardi v. Gerardi, 69 F. Supp. 296 (D.D.C. 1946). Here, the claimant and the NH allege that they entered into a common-law marriage in Argentina.  Accordingly, we must determine whether their relationship constitutes a valid marriage under Argentine law. 

Argentina does not recognize common-law marriage. See C~ Civil arts. 172, 186.  Argentina recognizes as valid only civil marriages that are celebrated with a civil marriage ceremony before competent authorities of the Registry of Civil Status. Id. In this matter, the claimant and the NH acknowledge that their relationship has not been celebrated with a civil marriage ceremony.  Their relationship, therefore, does not constitute a valid marriage under Argentine law. Accordingly, the claimant cannot qualify as the NH’s wife on the basis that she was validly married to him at the time she applied for benefits.

B. The Claimant Does Not Have the Same Status As a Wife Under Intestacy Law         

Even if the claimant was not validly married to the NH, she will be deemed to be his wife if, under the law applied by the courts of the District of Columbia in determining the devolution of intestate personal property, she would have the same status as a wife. See Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.

Under District of Columbia law, intestate inheritance rights are determined by the law of the decedent’s domicile. Javier v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.