TN 6 (01-15)

PR 06210.005 Arkansas

A. PR 15-065 Claimant's Marital Status for Determining Her Eligibility for Widow's Insurance Benefits as a Surviving Divorced Wife of the Number Holder – Florida

DATE: January 7, 2015

1. SYLLABUS

A surviving divorced wife may qualify for WIB on the insured individual's earnings record if, in relevant part, she is not married. When we determine whether the claimant is married to another individual, we look to the State law of the State in which a number holder was domiciled when he died to determine the claimant's marital status to another individual. However, in determining a claimant's marital status, SSA generally looks to the deemed-marriage provisions before determining the legality of a relationship under State law. 

In this case, SSA has concluded the relationship between Claimant and her spouse satisfies the criteria for a deemed marriage under Social Security law. The Claimant did not know of the possible legal impediment at the time of the marriage ceremony and believed her marriage to her spouse was valid. Therefore, Social Security Administration (SSA)  deems the claimant's marriage to another individual valid. The claimant is not unmarried for determining her eligibility for WIB on the number holder's earnings.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You asked whether a claimant, who married another individual in Arkansas on July 17, 1986, but whose Illinois divorce from the number holder did not become final until August 15, 1986, is unmarried for determining the claimant's eligibility for widow's insurance benefits (WIB) on the number holder's earnings record as a surviving divorced wife of the number holder, who died while domiciled in Florida.

OPINION

The claimant is not unmarried for determining her eligibility for WIB on the number holder's earnings record because the Social Security Administration (SSA) would deem the claimant's marriage to another individual valid.

BACKGROUND

According to the information provided, R~ (Claimant), who was born on November, married R~, the number holder (NH), on August 10, 1957, in Illinois.  On April 23, 1985, Claimant filed a petition for divorce in an Illinois court, but the court dismissed the petition on December 2, 1985. On June 26, 1986, NH filed a petition for divorce in an Illinois court.  Court records show Claimant attended pre-trial conference in July 1986, but Claimant alleges she moved to Arkansas after filing for divorce and did not return to Illinois for any proceedings. Claimant reported her attorney told her in July 1986 that he had taken care of the divorce. On July 17, 1986, when she was forty-seven years old, Claimant married another individual, M~, in Arkansas, purportedly based on her attorney's statements in July 1986. On August 15, 1986, the Illinois court issued a judgment of divorce. 

On May 20, 2014, NH died while domiciled in Florida. Claimant reported she did not learn of the date when her divorce from NH had become final until she secured certified copies of the divorce decree in August 2014.  On September 23, 2014, Claimant applied for WIB on NH's earnings record as NH's surviving divorced wife. Claimant reported in her application that she was married to M~. Claimant currently resides in Arkansas and receives old-age insurance benefits on her own earnings record. SSA has concluded the relationship between Claimant and M~ satisfies the criteria for a deemed marriage under Social Security law.

DISCUSSION

A claimant may be eligible for WIB if she is a surviving divorced wife of an individual who died fully insured. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(e)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336(a) (2014). 1 A claimant may qualify as a "surviving divorced wife" of an insured individual if her marriage to the insured individual was valid under the laws of the State where he was domiciled when he died. See Act § 216(d)(2), (h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.336(a)(1), 404.345. If the claimant is not (and is not deemed to be) the surviving divorced wife of the insured individual under State law, but the claimant establishes to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that she in good faith went through a marriage ceremony with the insured individual resulting in a purported marriage between them which, but for a legal impediment not known to the claimant at the time of such ceremony, would have been a valid marriage, and the claimant and the insured individual were living in the same household when the insured individual died, then the purported marriage shall be deemed a valid marriage for determining the claimant's eligibility for WIB. See Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.336(a)(1), 404.346; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00305.055A.1. A surviving divorced wife may qualify for WIB on the insured individual's earnings record if, in relevant part, she is not married. 2 See Act § 202(e)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336(e).

Claimant's marriage to, and divorce from, NH are not at issue in this matter. The evidence provided indicates Claimant was validly married to NH in Illinois and their marriage ended in divorce on August 15, 1986, in Illinois.  The issue in this matter is whether Claimant's marriage to M~ is a valid marriage that would render Claimant married for determining her eligibility for WIB on NH's earnings record as a surviving divorced wife of NH.

The Act and regulations do not expressly address which law applies to determine a claimant's marital status to an individual other than the number holder. However, subsumed within the question of whether a claimant is entitled to WIB on the number holder's earning record as a surviving divorced wife is the question of whether the claimant was married to another individual.  Therefore, we infer from the Act and regulations on which State law determines marital status that the law of the State in which a number holder was domiciled when he died would also determine the claimant's marital status to another individual. See, e. g., Smith v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 1284, 1285 (11th Cir. 1983) (stating "appropriate criterion for evaluating a claimant's eligibility for widow's insurance benefits is determined according to the law of the insured's domicile at the time of his death" and analyzing claimant's marital status at the time of number holder's death under the law of the number holder's domicile).  Similarly, we infer from the Act and regulations that if the claimant is not (and is not deemed to be) validly married under State law, SSA may determine the claimant's marital status to another individual using the Act and regulatory provisions regarding federal deemed marriages. See Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.336(a)(1), 404.346.

In determining a claimant's marital status, SSA generally looks to the deemed-marriage provisions before determining the legality of a relationship under State law. See POMS GN 00305.055C.1. SSA has concluded the relationship between Claimant and M~ satisfies the criteria for a deemed marriage under Social Security law. Claimant provided an Arkansas marriage license and certificate showing she and M~ went through a marriage ceremony resulting in a purported marriage. The evidence also indicates Claimant went through the marriage ceremony with M~ in good faith, not knowing of the possible legal impediment.  Claimant reported her attorney told her in July 1986, before she married M~, that he had taken care of the divorce. Claimant also reported she did not learn of the date when her divorce from NH had become final until in August 2014, more than thirty years after she went through the marriage ceremony with M~. Thus, Claimant did not know of the possible legal impediment at the time of the marriage ceremony and believed her marriage to M~ was valid. Finally, nothing in the record indicates Claimant and M~ were not living in the same household. Therefore, based on Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(i), 20 C.F.R. § 404.346, and POMS GN 00305.055, we concur with SSA's determination that the relationship between Claimant and M~ satisfies the criteria for a deemed marriage under Social Security law.

CONCLUSION

Claimant is not unmarried for determining her eligibility for WIB on NH's earnings record. 

Sincerely,

Mary Ann Sloan

Regional Chief Counsel

By: ________________

 Brian C. Huberty

 Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:

[1]

All references to the Code of Federal Regulations are to the 2014 edition.

[2]

The exceptions to the unmarried requirement do not apply in this case because Claimant's purported marriage to M~ occurred when she was forty-seven years old. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.336(e). We do not address the other requirements for eligibility for WIB as a surviving divorced wife because you raised no questions regarding those requirements.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1506210005
PR 06210.005 - Arkansas - 01/30/2015
Batch run: 01/30/2015
Rev:01/30/2015