A worker, A, was entitled to old-age insurance benefits. B filed application for wife's insurance benefits on A's earnings record in March 1962, the month she attained age 62. A and B went through a marriage ceremony in New York in December 1932 and have been living together in New York since that time. A had previously been married but in 1930 had obtained a Mexican "mail-order" divorce from his first wife, who is still living. At the time of the divorce both he and his first wife were domiciled in New York, and neither of them appeared personally in the action though they were both represented by counsel. No other divorce has been obtained by either A or his first wife and the latter has not remarried. B knew about A's previous marriage but believed he had been validly divorced from his first wife. A's first wife has never claimed wife's insurance benefits on his earnings record.
The question is whether B qualifies as A's wife under section 216(h)(1) of the Social Security Act. She met all other requirements for entitlement to wife's insurance benefits beginning March 1962.
Under section 216(h)(1)(A), a woman is the wife of a worker for purposes of entitlement to wife's insurance benefits on his earnings record if the courts of the State in which he is domiciled at the time she filed her application would find that either (1) the worker and she were validly married at that time, or (2) she would have the same status as a wife with respect to a share in the distribution of his personal property if he had hied intestate.
Under section 216(h)(1)(B), enacted in 1960, a claimant who does not meet the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A), may nevertheless be deemed to be validly married to the worker for purposes of wife's insurance benefits for months after August 1960, under the following conditions: She must in good faith have gone through a marriage ceremony with the worker not knowing of an impediment which made the marriage invalid; the impediment must have resulted from the continued existence of a prior marriage of either party, have arisen out of the dissolution of the prior marriage, or have resulted from a defect in the procedure followed in connection with her ceremonial marriage to the worker; she must be living in the same household with the worker when her application is filed; and no other woman who meets the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A) is or has been entitled to wife's insurance benefits on the worker's earnings record.
Under New York law, A's Mexican "mail-order" divorce would be considered a nullity. Caldwell v. Caldwell, 298 N.Y. 146, 81 N.E. 2d 60 (1948). Thus, in that State (which was the State of his domicile at the time B file application for wife's benefits) he would be considered to be still married to his first wife, and accordingly his marriage to B would be considered absolutely void there. Magner v. Hobby, 215 F.2d 190 (2d Cir. 1954), B, therefore, would not qualify as A's wife under either test of section 216(h)(1)(A), described above.
However, since no one who meets the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A) is or has been entitled to wife's insurance benefits on A's earnings record, B can qualify as his wife under section 216(h)(1)(B). She went through a marriage ceremony with A, believing in good faith that A's previous marriage had been dissolved by a valid divorce; their marriage was invalid because of an impediment arising from the lack of dissolution of A's previous marriage; and she was living in the same household with A when she filed her application for benefits.
Accordingly, it is held that B qualifies as A's wife under section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act. Therefore, she is entitled to wife's insurance benefits beginning March 1962.
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