TN 2 (02-13)
PR 06225.020 Kentucky
A. PR 13-041 Effect of Annulment of Divorce Decree on Determining Claimant’s Marital Status and Eligibility for Wife’s Insurance Benefits – Kentucky
DATE: January 28, 2013
Kentucky law provides that a court that rendered a judgment of divorce may annul the divorce upon a petition from the parties to the divorce. An annulment of a divorce voids the divorce decree and restores the parties to the status of husband and wife. In this case, the claimant and number holder (NH) filed and agreed to a petition to annul their divorce and signed the Agreed Order; the same Kentucky court that issued the divorce decree issued the Agreed Order. The Agreed Order properly annulled the divorce between the NH and the claimant, who are validly married and have the same status as if the court had never issued the divorce decree.
You asked whether an Agreed Order from a Kentucky family court purporting to annul the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage between the number holder and the claimant effectively requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to ignore the divorce for determining the claimant’s marital status and her eligibility for wife’s insurance benefits (WIB) on the number holder’s earnings record.
Under Kentucky law, the Agreed Order nullified the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. Therefore, the number holder and the claimant are validly married as if the divorce had never occurred.
According to the information provided, Linda (Claimant) and Kenneth, the number holder (NH), married on March 25, 2000. On May 29, 2008, a Kentucky family court issued a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage dissolving the marriage between Claimant and NH. Nearly four years later, on April 13, 2012, based on a petition filed by and agreed to by Claimant and NH, the same Kentucky family court entered an Agreed Order pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statute § 403.041 stating the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage between Claimant and NH was “set aside, annulled, and now held for naught.” The Decree of Dissolution of Marriage states Claimant and NH resided in Kentucky when they filed their petition.
Claimant applied for WIB on NH’s earnings record on June 24, 2012. SSA denied Claimant’s application on July 14, 2012, finding she had been married to NH for less than ten years. Claimant requested reconsideration on July 16, 2012, and attached to her request the Agreed Order discussed above.
A claimant who meets certain other conditions may be eligible for WIB if she is the “wife” of an individual who is entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(b)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330(a) (2012). All other C.F.R. cites are to the 2012 version unless otherwise noted.
A claimant may qualify as the “wife” of an insured individual if she is validly married to the individual under the laws of the State where the individual was domiciled when the claimant filed her application. See Act § 216(b), (h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.344, 404.345. The Decree of Dissolution of Marriage indicates NH and Claimant were residents of Kentucky and information you provided us indicates that they remain residents of Kentucky. Therefore, we look to Kentucky law to determine whether Claimant and NH are validly married.
Under Kentucky law, the court that rendered a judgment of divorce may annul the divorce upon a petition verified by the parties to the divorce. See Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 403.041 (West 2012). All other references to the Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. are to the 2012 version unless otherwise noted. An annulment of a divorce restores the parties to the condition of husband and wife and voids the divorce decree. See id. § 403.040. A Federal court has ruled on the effect of such annulments under Kentucky law as it relates to Social Security benefits. See Litteral v. Sec’y of Health, Education & Welfare, 215 F. Supp. 865, 865 (E.D. Ky. 1963). In L~, the agency had denied the plaintiff’s application for widow’s insurance benefits based on a finding that the plaintiff was not married to the wage earner for at least the year preceding his death. Id. at 865; see also Act § 216(c)(1)(E) (establishing current requirement that claimant's relationship to insured last for at least nine months immediately before insured died); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a)(2) (same). The plaintiff and wage earner in L~ had been married from 1940 through 1958 and their divorce was annulled on November 5, 1959, a few weeks before the wage earner’s death. Id. at 865. The L~ court held that under Kentucky’s divorce annulment statute (which was nearly identical to the current provisions in Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 403.040 and 403.041), the order annulling the divorce decree rendered the divorce void and of no effect and put the individuals in the same legal situation they would have occupied if there had never been a divorce. See id. at 866-67.
Here, the same Kentucky court that issued the divorce decree also issued the Agreed Order, the court stated Claimant and NH had filed and agreed to the petition to annul their divorce, and Claimant and NH signed the Agreed Order. As such, the evidence provided indicates the court issued the Agreed Order in accordance with Kentucky law, and the divorce was void and of no effect. See Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 403.040, 403.041; L~, 215 F. Supp. at 866-67. Therefore, under Kentucky law, the marriage between Claimant and NH was not severed by the divorce decree and they are validly married under Kentucky law.
Under Kentucky law, the Agreed Order properly annulled the divorce between NH and Claimant. Claimant and NH are validly married and have the same status as if the court had never issued the divorce decree.
Mary Ann Sloan
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel