20 CFR 404.1101
R, a fully insured worker, died in 1965 domiciled in the State of Ohio. At the time of R's death, he and W were living in the same household. W filed application for widow's insurance benefits and presented, in support of her claim, evidence of a ceremonial marriage to R in 1947. At the time of this marriage, R had represented himself as unmarried and W entered into the marriage unaware of the worker's prior marriages. It was not until after R's death that W learned of R's prior marriages. W was unable to submit evidence to establish termination of these earlier marriages. However, at the time of W's application, there was no other person who met the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act and who was or had been entitled to wife's widow's, or mother's insurance benefits on R's earnings record.
Section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Act provides that a woman is the widow of a worker for purposes of widow's insurance benefits if the courts of the State in which he was domiciled at the time of his death wound find either (1) that the worker and she were validly married at that time, or (2) that she would have the same status as a widow for purposes of sharing in the distribution of his intestate personal property.
However, under section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act, a claimant who does not meet the requirements of section 216(h)91)(A), may nevertheless have the status of a worker's widow, as provided in pertinent part, below:
The question thus presented is whether W is the widow of the worker and entitled to widow's insurance benefits based on his earnings record.
Two conflicting presumptions are brought into play in considering opposing claims to the validity of a first and second marriage under the law of Ohio. these presumptions are: (1) that a marriage solemnized in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction where it occurs is presumed to be valid; and (2) that a marriage which has been properly and legally solemnized is presumed to continue, in the absence of evidence that it was terminated by death or by a decree of dissolution by a court of competent jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Ohio discussed these two conflicting presumptions in the case of Industrial Commission of Ohio v. Dell, et al, 135 N.E. 669, 673 (Ohio, 1922). In holding that where both marriages have been lawfully solemnized and he record is silent as to whether there has been a divorce of the parties to the first marriage, there is a presumption that the status of the parties to the first marriage continues and the burden is upon the parties claiming the validity of the second marriage to overcome such presumption, the court stated, in pertinent part:
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considered the Ohio rule in the case of Domany v. Otis Elevator, 369 Fed.2d 604 (1966), cert. den. 387 U.S. 942 (1967), stating at page 612:
Since R was domiciled in Ohio at the time of his death, the Ohio law is applicable in this case. The Ohio rule places the burden on the second or subsequent wife to prove the validity of her marriage. Since the evidence established R's prior marriages but not their dissolution, W could not under the law of Ohio, be found to be his legal widow. W does not, therefore, satisfy the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A). However, W went through a marriage ceremony with R in good faith believing that a valid marriage resulted from the ceremony. She had no knowledge of his previous marriages at the time of the ceremony. R and W were living in the same household at the time of R's death. At the time W filed her application, there was no other person who met the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act and who was or had been entitled to wife's, widow's, or mother's insurance benefits on R's earnings record.
Accordingly, it is held that the marriage of W and R is deemed a valid marriage pursuant to section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act and therefore W is R's widow for purposes of entitlement to widow's insurance benefits.
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