TN 2 (09-11)
PR 06310.025 Michigan
A. PR 11-150 MOS-Michigan – Annulment of Void or Voidable Marriage-REPLY
DATE: August 26, 2011
The parties married in Illinois and then returned to Michigan the next day. Michigan law recognizes marriages of its citizens that occur in another state, provided the marriage is valid under that state’s laws. Under Illinois law if one of the parties to a marriage is already married, the marriage is void from the outset. The NH was already married at the time of his marriage to the claimant, and the Michigan court correctly determined the marriage between the NH and claimant to be void. Because the marriage was void at the outset, the claimant does not meet the relationship requirement for benefits as the NH’s widow. Neither is the claimant the putative spouse of the NH because, although she contracted the marriage in good faith, she later learned that it was void; also, as she was not living with the NH at the time of his death, she could not be a putative spouse under Michigan law. Further, the claimant is not the deemed spouse of the NH because she was not living with him at the time of his death.
You asked whether the marriage between Herschel M~ and Jean M~ was void. You have further asked us how the agency should proceed on Jean M~’s claim for widow’s benefits on the record of Herschel M~. For the reasons stated below, we believe that the marriage was void. We further believe that the agency should deny Jean M~’s claim for benefits.
In 1969, Michigan residents Herschel M~ (“Herschel”) and Jean M~ (“Jean”) travelled to Illinois. They had a marriage ceremony in Illinois and returned to Michigan the next day. At the time of their marriage ceremony, Herschel was already married to his first wife (although Jean seemed to have been unaware of this fact). Herschel divorced his first wife just prior to May 1984.
In May 1984, upon the motion of Jean, a Michigan court entered (but did not finalize) an order that “dissolved [the marriage between Herschel and Jean] and declared [that marriage] to be void.” The basis of the court’s decision was that Herschel had another legal wife (i.e. his first wife) living at the time that he entered into his marriage with Jean. However, the court also noted that “the purported marriage” between Herschel and Jean “was contracted in good faith.”
Herschel then married a third woman, stating that he had never been legally married to Jean. In May 1985, the Michigan court finalized the order dissolving the marriage between Herschel and Jean.
In 2004, Herschel died while residing in Michigan. In 2011, Jean applied for widow’s benefits on the record of Herschel.
To be entitled to widow’s benefits, a claimant must (among other factors) meet the relationship requirements of POMS RS 00207.001(A)(1)(a). A claimant can meet those relationship requirements by either having been the legal spouse, putative spouse, or deemed spouse of the number holder at the time of his death. POMS RS 00207.001(A)(1)(a). Jean was neither the legal spouse, putative spouse, or deemed spouse of Herschel at the time of his death.
Jean was not the legal spouse of Herschel because her marriage to him was void from its outset. A void marriage is a marriage “which is legally nonexistent from the beginning under State law, with or without a judicial decree.” POMS GN 00305.125(A). Consequently, individuals who enter into “a void marriage are considered never to have been husband and wife.” POMS GN 00305.125(A).
For purposes of widow’s benefits, we look to the law of the state where the insured died to determine the validity of the marriage. Here, Herschel died in Michigan, but the marriage license is from Illinois, and the wedding ceremony was in Illinois. Michigan law recognizes a marriage of its citizens that occurs in another state, as long as the marriage is valid under that other state’s laws. M.C.L.A. § 551.271. Therefore, Michigan courts would look to Illinois law in determining whether the marriage was void at its inception. See M.C.L.A. § 551.271. Under Illinois law, a marriage is void from the outset if one of the parties to the marriage is already married. See Cardenas v. Cardenas, 12 Ill. App. 2d 497, 505 (Ill App. Ct., 1st Dist., 1957). Because Herschel was already married at the time of his marriage ceremony with Jean, the Michigan court correctly determined that the marriage between Herschel and Jean was void. As her marriage was void at the outset, Jean does not meet the relationship requirement for widow’s benefits by having been Herschel’s legal spouse at the time of his death. Similarly, Jean was not the putative spouse of Herschel at the time of his death. A putative marriage occurs where there “is a good faith belief in the existence of a valid marriage at its inception and . . . good faith until the worker dies (in a death case).” POMS GN 00305.085(A)(1). A putative marriage may permit a widow to share in the distribution of the number holder’s intestate personal property, and thus satisfy the relationship requirement for widow’s benefits. However, while Jean originally contracted her marriage to Herschel “in good faith,” by 1984 she learned that her marriage was void (when it was declared void by the Michigan court). In addition, Jean was not living with Herschel as his spouse at the time of his death, and thus could not be a putative spouse under Michigan law. See Stevenson v. City of Detroit, 201 N.W.2d 668, 691-92 (noting that a woman could be considered a deceased man’s putative wife when, among other factors, she “lived with him as his wife until his death” (emphasis added)). As such, Jean does not meet the relationship requirement for widow’s benefits by having been Herschel’s putative spouse at the time of his death.
Finally, Jean does not meet the relationship requirement for widow’s benefits by having been Herschel’s deemed spouse at the time of his death. A claimant can only be a deemed spouse of a deceased individual if she was living with that individual at the time of his death. 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(b); POMS GN 00305.055. As Jean was not living with Herschel at the time of his death, she was not the deemed spouse of Herschel. We also considered whether Jean would meet the requirements for being a surviving divorced spouse. The POMS specify that a surviving divorced spouse must have a final divorce from a number holder and have been the legal, putative or deemed spouse of the number holder for ten years. POMS RS 00207.001(A)(2)(a). Here, Jean does not have a final divorce from Herschel (she has an annulment) and, there is no basis for characterizing the annulment as a divorce under Michigan law. Thus, she would not be entitled to surviving divorced spouse’s benefits.
For the above reasons, we conclude that Jean M~ does not meet the relationship requirements for widow’s benefits, and thus is not entitled to benefits on the record of Herschel M~.
Grace M. K~
Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region V
Assistant Regional Counsel