20 CFR 404.1101, 404.1103

SSR 67-58

Where a woman in good faith and without knowledge of the worker's prior existing marriage, was ceremonially married to him in 1941, and continued to live with him until 1964 when the first marriage was dissolved by a final divorce which terminated the former wife's entitlement to wife's insurance benefits, held, immediately upon dissolution of the first marriage, the woman's marriage to the worker in 1941 is deemed to be a valid marriage under section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act, and therefore, having already satisfied the one-year duration-of-marriage requirement of section 216(b)(2) of the Act, she meets the definition of "wife" in section 216(b) and may, upon filing application, become entitled to wife's insurance benefits.

R, the worker, and his wife, B, were ceremonially married in 1912 in Ohio. Another woman, L, in good faith and without knowledge of R's marriage to B, ceremonially married R in Missouri in 1941. This marriage was, of course, invalid because of R's undissolved marriage to B, and L's application for wife's insurance benefits, filed in 1958, was disallowed. B had previously filed as R's legal spouse and was awarded wife's insurance benefits. B's benefits continued until her marriage to R was terminated October 16, 1964, by divorce in Missouri. On October 21, 1964, L filed a new application for wife's insurance benefits as the legal spouse of R.

The question presented is at what point of time did L first meet the definition of "wife" under the Social Security Act and thus satisfy all requirements for entitlement to wife's insurance benefits on R's earnings record. All other requirements for entitlement were met.

Section 202(b)(1) of the Social Security Act provides for wife's insurance benefits to the wife (as defined in section 216(b) of the Act) of an individual entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits. Section 216(b), in pertinent part, defines the term "wife" as the wife of an individual but only if she was married to him for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding the day on which her application for benefits is filed.

Under section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Act, a woman is the wife of a worker for purposes of entitlement to wife's insurance benefits on his earnings record is 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 died intestate. The courts of Missouri would find that L did not meet either of the above tests, since her marriage to R was void due to his prior undissolved marriage.

However, under section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act, as pertinent to this case, where a woman and a worker went through a marriage ceremony which resulted in a purported marriage between them, such purported marriage may be considered a valid marriage for purposes of section 216(b) if the woman in good faith went through a marriage ceremony with the worker not knowing of a legal impediment which made the marriage invalid and the legal impediment resulted from the continued existence of a prior marriage of either party, arose out of the dissolution of the prior marriage, or from a procedural defect in the woman's ceremonial marriage to the worker; and she was living in the same household with the worker when her application was filed.

In this case, the above conditions were met at the time L filed her original application in 1958. However, a deemed wife may not qualify for wife's insurance benefits on the earnings record of a worker while another individual is entitled to benefits as his legal wife i.e., as a wife under section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Act. Thus, while B was R's legal wife under section 216(h)(1)(A) and, as such, was entitled to wife's insurance benefits on R's earnings record, L could not qualify for benefits as R's wife. However, once B's marriage to R was terminated by divorce on October 16, 1964, B was no longer R's legal wife. Further, since L's "deemed marriage" to R had taken place more than a year before she filed her application, the fact that she was not eligible to receive wife's benefits until R's divorce from B ended B's status as R's legal wife and that L did not become R's "wife" until the date of such divorce, does not mean L's deemed marriage to R may not be considered a "marriage" from the time it occurred, for purposes of section 216(b)(2) (which prescribes the one-year requirement). Therefore, in October 1964, the month she filed her application, L had already met the one-year duration-of-marriage requirement in section 216(b)(2) of the Act.

Accordingly, it is held that, beginning with October 1964, L is R's "wife" and on the basis of her application filed in October 1964 she is entitled to wife's insurance benefits on R's earnings record.

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