W went through a ceremonial marriage to R in 1949 in New York. However, at the time of the ceremony a legal impediment existed which W did not know about which made the marriage null and void.
By 1951, R had abandoned W and relocated out of state, never to return to live with W again. In fact, W never heard of R again.
R passed away in 1963 while domiciled in Pennsylvania. Upon learning of R’s death, W filed for widow’s social security benefits based on R’s earnings record.
There are two ways in which social security determines whether a claimant is a widow of a deceased worker. One is whether or not the claimant and the deceased worker’s marriage was valid under the law of the state in which the deceased worker was domiciled at the time of his death. The other is whether or not the claimant would qualify to inherit personal property from the deceased worker under the laws of intestate succession of the state in which the deceased worker was domiciled at the time of his death.
Neither of these tests were met, so W was not R’s widow under social security’s regulations.
However, a claimant can be “deemed” a deceased worker’s widow if she underwent a ceremonial marriage in good faith believing the marriage to be valid, and the marriage would have been valid but for a legal impediment unknown to the claimant at the time of the ceremony.
For this “deemed widow” provision to apply, the parties must have been residing with each other at the time of the deceased worker’s death.
A temporary separation of the parties will not invalidate this deeming provision.
However, absences can be considered temporary only under three circumstances: 1) if due to service in the U.S. Armed Forces, or 2) if for a period not to exceed six months, when due to business or employment reasons, or confinement in a penal institution, or in a hospital, nursing home, or other curative institution, or 3) in any other case in which the evidence shows an intent to resume living together in the reasonably foreseeable future.
W met the first requirement for qualifying as a “deemed” widow because she in good faith underwent a ceremonial marriage to R not knowing about a legal impediment which rendered the marriage invalid.
However, unfortunately for W, the parties could not reasonably be construed to have been temporarily absent from each other at the time of R’s death.
W was denied benefits.
See Social Security Ruling (SSR) 69-27a.
When it comes the family law and social security disability, each client and case is different. It is also important to select an attorney with the experience, skills and professionalism required to address your legal issues. To learn more, contact the Salt Lake City law offices of Melvin A. Cook and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.