The claimant’s non-martial relationship to the NH would not be recognized as a valid
marriage under the Social Security Act (Act). Moreover, the claimant does not have
the same status as a legally married spouse of the NH for purposes of intestate inheritance
under Chilean law. Therefore, the agency cannot deem her the NH’s widow for the purpose
of Title II survivor’s benefits.
The claimant and NH began living together as husband and wife in Valparaiso, Chile
in 19XX. The NH was still legally married to a different woman who died in 20XX. The
NH and the claimant had a son in 20XX.
The NH died on December , 20XX and in February 20XX, the claimant applied for widow’s
benefits on the NH’s record.
To be entitled to widow’s insurance benefits under the Act, a claimant must show,
among other things, that she is the “widow” of an insured. 42 U.S.C. § 402(e)(1).
As pertinent here, the Act provides two methods for a claimant to show she is the
widow of an insured who was domiciled outside the United States. First, a claimant is the widow of such insured if the courts of the District of Columbia
would find that the claimant was validly married to the insured at the time the insured
died. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Second, if the claimant was
not validly married to such insured at the time the insured died, the claimant will
be deemed to be the insured’s widow if, under the law applied by the courts of the
District of Columbia in determining the devolution of intestate personal property,
the claimant would have the “same status” as a widow of the insured with respect to
the taking of such property. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.
The Claimant and NH Were Not in a Valid Marriage
Under the law of the District of Columbia, 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. Varr, 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 lived as husband and wife, but there is no indication
that they entered into a ceremonial marriage. Therefore, the claimant is not entitled
to Title II widow’s benefits on the record of the NH, based on a valid marriage to
The Claimant Does Not Have the Same Status as a Widow of the NH under
the Intestacy Law of Chile.
Since the claimant was not married to the NH, the agency will deem the claimant to
be the NH’s widow if, under the law applied by the courts of the District of Columbia
in determining the devolution of intestate personal property, she has the “same status”
as a widow of the NH with respect to the taking of such property. 42 U.S.C § 416(h)(1)(A)(ii);
20 C.F.R. § 404.345.
Under District of Columbia law, the law of the decedent’s domicile determines intestate
inheritance rights. Javier v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 407 F.3d 1244, 1247 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing In re Gray’s Estate, 168 F. Supp. 124 (D.D.C. 1958)).
Here, the NH was domiciled in Chile at the time of death. Chile, a civil law country,
does not recognize common-law marriage. Instead, a partnership where two people live
together in a permanent relationship as husband and wife is considered a de facto
union pursuant to Law 20830. In order for a civil union to be legally recognized, the partners who share a life
together in a permanent and stable relationship must freely enter into an agreement
on civil union (ACU) before the officer of the Civil Registry and Identification,
which is later recorded in the special Registry on Civil Unions. Partners to de facto unions are entitled to inherit property intestate, similar to
a surviving spouse.
In the instant case, the NH and claimant lived as a married couple beginning in November
19XX, but the NH was still legally married until 20XX when his wife passed away. The
couple had a child together and life insurance documents show that claimant was made
the beneficiary on the NH’s policies. In December 20XX, the NH passed away. Although
the claimant and NH lived together as a couple, there is no indication that they entered
into an ACU. Since there does not appear to be a signed and registered ACU, the claimant
and NH’s long term relationship would not be recognized as a de facto union pursuant
to Law 20830. Accordingly, the claimant cannot inherit like a spouse and therefore
does not have the same status as a widow of the NH.
The claimant’s relationship with the NH would not be recognized as a valid marriage,
and the claimant does not possess the same intestate succession rights as a widow
of the NH under the law of Chile. Thus, the agency cannot deem the couple married
for title II purposes.
 Our discussion of the law of Chile is based in part on information we received from
the Library of Congress.
 In determining the claimant’s relationship as the insured’s spouse, the agency looks
to the law of the state where the insured had a permanent home at the time the claimant
applied for benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i). If the insured was not domiciled in any state, the agency
applies the law of the District of Columbia. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.
 The only exception is when the marriage is in violation of strong public policy of
the District of Columbia. Hitchens v. Hitchens, 47 F. Supp. 73, 74 (D.D.C. 1942). The recognition of heterosexual unions performed
in other jurisdictions does not appear to violate a strong public policy of the District.
Ley 19947 arts. 4–9, DIARIO OFICIAL [D.O.], May 17, 2004, https://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma=225128 archived at
https://perma.cc/R2AB-PMJV; CARLOS GARRIDO CHACANA, ACUERDO DE UNIÓN CIVIL, ANÁLISIS DE LEY 220830 at 25–26 (Santiago,
2015); and Ley 20830 Crea el Acuerdo de Unión Civil, D.O., Apr. 21, 2015, http://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma= 1075210, archived at https://perma.cc/AZV7-3L9N. Ley 20830 arts. 1, 5, 6.  Ley 20830 arts. 16 Crea el Acuerdo de Unión Civil, D.O., Apr. 21, 2015, http://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma= 1075210, archived at https://perma.cc/AZV7-3L9N; and Susan Turner Saelzer, La Unión de Hecho como Institución del Derecho de Familia y su Régimen
de Efectos Personales, 16(1) REVISTA IUS ET PRAXIS 85, 85–87 (Universidad de Talca, Facultad de Ciencias
Jurídicas y Sociales, 2010), http://www.scielo.cl/pdf/iusetp/v16n1/art04.pdf, archived at