Paul and Fannie were legally married in Jackson, Mississippi in 1931. They lived together
until Paul left for work on June 6, 1944 and never returned. For many years, Fannie
did not know Paul's whereabouts. In September 1991, Paul's cousin informed Fannie
that Paul died in Macon, Georgia on January 20, 1991. Paul's cousin was not aware
of the places Paul had lived before he moved to Georgia, but knew that Paul had lived
in several other States. The cousin, who is age 92 and has bad memory, is Paul's only
known surviving relative.
Fannie filed for widow's benefits in November 1991 because Fannie had never divorced
Paul nor had Fannie received notice that Paul had divorced Fannie. However, Paul's
third spouse, Mary, had already filed for widow's benefits on Paul's record.
The FO obtained the file from the PSC. Paul's RIB application indicated that Paul
married Fannie in the early 1930s in Jackson, Mississippi but Paul divorced Fannie
in Miami, Florida in the late 1940s. His application also indicated that he married
Patsy in Detroit, Michigan in the 1950s but Patsy died in 1961. His last marriage
was to Mary in 1962. They were married in Macon, Georgia where they lived until Paul's
death in January 1991. Mary's application provided essentially the same marital history
about Paul, except that it did not mention his first marriage to Fannie.
Mary was contacted for information concerning the places Paul had lived after Paul
and Fannie separated in June 1944 but Mary was unable to provide any additional information.
Other than Detroit, Mary was not aware of the other places Paul had lived before they
met. Mary only knew that Paul travelled from place to place with a circus, which is
Divorce records were searched in all known places of residence, based on the marital
history on the NH's application, but no evidence of a divorce was found.
Because the FO is unable to determine exactly where Paul had lived after Paul and
Fannie separated in 1944, the appropriate divorce records could not be searched. Therefore,
the NH's last marriage to Mary is presumed to be valid under the laws of Georgia,
the State of domicile when Paul died. Also, Mary is presumed to be Paul's legal spouse
under the laws of the other States in our region, including SC.
Because Mary is considered Paul's legal spouse based on the application of PVLM, FOs
should presume that the divorce between Paul and Fannie took place on June 6, 1944,
the day Paul's whereabouts were first unknown. Therefore, since Fannie meets the 10-year
duration of marriage requirement, Fannie may be entitled to surviving divorced spouse's
benefits if Fannie is otherwise qualified.
Had a divorce decree been obtained, PVLM would not apply in this case. However, Mary
would still be considered the legal spouse based on evidence that Paul's prior marriage
to Fannie did indeed terminate.
Had the FO been able to trace Paul's whereabouts for the entire period in question
(from June 6, 1944 to January 20, 1991), and no divorce decree was found during the
search of the appropriate jurisdictions, PVLM would be rebutted and Fannie would be
considered Paul's legal spouse for SSA purposes. If this were the situation, Mary
would be entitled to deemed widow's benefits if Mary meets those requirements and
is otherwise qualified.