TN 84 (11-23)

GN 00305.065 Development of Common-Law (Non-Ceremonial) Marriages

A. Making common-law marriage determinations

We make common-law marriage determinations in accordance with state law. Some states allow for establishment of common-law marriages. Other states may not allow for establishment of common-law marriages but will recognize common-law marriages established in another state or country. When making determinations on the existence of a common-law marriage, follow documentation procedures in GN 00305.065B in this section, in conjunction with application of state law criteria, as explained in GN 00305.075 through GN 00305.076. To decide which state law to apply when more than one state is involved, follow procedures in GN 00305.005B.1.

For claims involving allegations that a common-law (or non-ceremonial) marriage was established outside the U.S., follow the documentation process concerning the application of foreign law in GN 00305.065B in this section, in conjunction with instructions on common-law marriages outside the United States in GN 00307.257.

B. Procedures for the development of common-law marriages

1. Preferred evidence when the married couple are living

Secure the following:

  • SSA-754-F4 (Statement of Marital Relationship) from each spouse; and

  • SSA-753 (Statement Regarding Marriage) from a blood relative (i.e., a person related by blood, not by marriage or adoption) of each spouse.

If . . .

Then . . .

you cannot get an SSA-753 from a blood relative of one spouse

secure one from another blood relative of the other spouse.

you cannot secure an SSA-753 from any blood relatives or you can secure an SSA-753 from only one blood relative

get a written explanation from the claimant and, for each SSA-753 not obtained from a blood relative, get an SSA-753 from another person who knows the facts.

Exclude the SSA-754-F4 or SSA-753 from the electronic documentation process. (For instructions about excluding these forms from documentation on EVID, see GN 00301.286E.3.b.) For instructions about retention of paper material after using the Non Disability Repository for Evidentiary Documents (NDRed), refer to GN 00301.322.

2. Other evidence when the married couple are living

If you cannot obtain the SSA-753s as discussed, obtain other evidence. Although completion of the SSA-753 might prove embarrassing, that is not reason enough for not obtaining it. If the claimant explains satisfactorily in writing why use of the SSA-753 would actually be detrimental to the parties or to children born of the relationship, accept other evidence of equal value per the instructions on secondary proof of ceremonial marriage in GN 00305.025B.2.

We do not require an SSA-753 if other evidence, in addition to the SSA-754s, conclusively proves the establishment of a common-law marriage. Document why you did not obtain each of the SSA-753s by using a Report of Contact (RPOC), Development Worksheet (DW03), or similar screen.

3. Preferred evidence when one spouse is deceased

Secure the following:

  • SSA-754-F4 from the surviving spouse,

  • SSA-753 from a blood relative of the surviving spouse, and

  • SSA-753s from two blood relatives of the deceased spouse.

4. Other evidence when one spouse is deceased

If a state administrative, judicial, or other proceeding already proved the common-law marriage, use it as other evidence. For policy and examples on applying state law time limits to common-law (non-ceremonial) marriages, refer to GN 00305.076A.

NOTE: We must consider an adjudication of a state trial court if the claimant meets the criteria in Gray vs. Richardson (adopted as Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37C ). Under this SSR, although the agency is not bound by the decision of a state trial court in a proceeding on an issue to which they were not a party, the agency is not free to ignore an adjudication of a state trial court with the following prerequisites:

  1. a. 

    the adjudication is by a state court of competent jurisdiction;

  2. b. 

    the issue was genuinely contested before the state court by parties with opposing interests;

  3. c. 

    the issue falls within the general category of domestic relations law; and

  4. d. 

    the resolution of the issue by the state trial court is consistent with the law enunciated by the highest court in the state.

If you cannot obtain each of the SSA-753s, request a written explanation from the claimant. For each SSA-753 not obtained from a blood relative, get an SSA-753 from a person who knows the facts or obtain other evidence for the SSA-753.

C. Development of evidence of a common-law marriage

When you develop evidence of a common-law marriage, follow these steps:

  • Develop each form independently of the others.

  • Answer all items on each form fully but concisely and in the person's own words.

  • Clarify all ambiguous answers and reconcile all conflicts. Explain any ambiguous answers on a report of contact form or Report of Contact (RPOC) screen.

  • Get a supplemental statement over the person’s signature, as needed.

  • Obtain corroborating evidence (e.g., mortgage or rent receipts, insurance policies, medical records, bank records) to substantiate the fact that the couple considered and held themselves out as a married couple.

NOTE: This list is not all-inclusive, and there may be other acceptable evidence. Also, the types of evidence are examples, and it is not necessary to obtain all of the examples listed.

See Details:

1. Using legal opinions as precedents

If the state law entry in the Digest of State laws does not contain sufficient information for you to adjudicate an issue concerning the validity of a common-law marriage, use a legal opinion in PR 05600.000 as a precedent if the issue is the same, in the same state, and the facts are similar. Document the legal opinion used. For details on legal precedent opinions, see GN 01010.810. If you need to submit a legal opinion for submission to the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), follow the procedures in GN 01010.815.

CAUTION: See individual state law statutes in GN 00305.075.

2. Prepare a special determination

Prepare an informal special determination on the RPOC screen in all cases, ensuring that the conclusion is consistent with existing policy and precedents. Where there is conflicting evidence, document how you resolved the conflict (i.e., why you accepted evidence supporting one position and rejected evidence supporting another position).

See Details:

GN 01010.360 Special Determinations for Claims Adjudication

PR 05600.000 Marital Relationship – Common-Law Marriages

To Link to this section - Use this URL:
GN 00305.065 - Development of Common-Law (Non-Ceremonial) Marriages - 08/10/2023
Batch run: 11/14/2023