Illinois Common Law Marriage and Widow's Social Security Benefits - Melvin
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Illinois Common Law Marriage and Widow’s Social Security Benefits

by Melvin Cook

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Mrs. Lynch and Mr. Lynch lived together in Illinois from 1946 until Mr. Lynch’s death in 1984. They never went through a ceremonial marriage.

Even though they were never formally married, the Lynches had three children together, filed taxes jointly, owned three apartments together, entered into joint contracts, introduced themselves as husband and wife, and Mrs. Lynch was a beneficiary on Mr. Lynch’s insurance policies. When they traveled out of state they registered at their hotels as husband and wife. They believed they had a valid common law marriage under Illinois law. For Pete’s sake, they shared the same surname, people! (Pardon the unseemly outburst).

After Mr. Lynch passed away in the aforementioned Orwellian year, Mrs. Lynch applied for widow’s social security benefits based on his earnings record. She could only qualify for such benefits if the state of Illinois, where Mr. Lynch was domiciled at the time of his death, would recognize her as his widow.

But Illinois did not recognize common law marriages contracted after the year 1905. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Lynch’s brief sojourns in other states (for no more than a few weeks at a time) did not make them residents of those states and, therefore, did not confer upon them the status of a common law married couple in those states, even though Illinois law did recognize common law marriages contracted in other states that were not against public policy, such as perhaps a marriage between persons who were too closely related — such as first cousins, or uncle and niece of the half blood, for example. (I’m afraid the foregoing was a run-on sentence, but I am at a loss as to how to condense it, so I will reluctantly let it stand. Apologies are again respectfully extended, particularly to readers who are in a hurry in this busy day and age).

The Lynch’s belief that they had a valid common law marriage was not particularly relevant.

Therefore, unfortunately for Ms. Lynch, her application was denied, which result was upheld after her appeal to federal district court.

See Social Security Ruling (SSR) 90-2. See also Lynch v. Bowen, 681 F. Supp. 506 (N.D. Ill. 1988).

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