SSR 63-48: SECTION 216(h)(1)(B). -- RELATIONSHIP -- TRIBAL CUSTOM MARRIAGE -- DEFECT IN PROCEDURE
20 CFR 404.1101(c)(2) and (3)
- Where claimant and worker, members of the Navajo Tribe in Arizona, followed the formalities of tribal custom n celebrating their marriage but failed to obtain a marriage license, thus rendering the marriage invalid under tribal law and under Arizona law, held, the celebration of the marriage pursuant to tribal custom constituted a "ceremony" within the meaning of section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act, and accordingly, all other requirements of such section being met, the claimant is entitled to mother's insurance benefits.
A fully insured worker, R, died domiciled in Arizona on February 3, 1959. On January 26, 1961, the claimant, W, filed application for mother's insurance benefits as R's widow.
W and R were married by tribal custom on June 1,1 957. Neither had been married previously. The marriage is reported to have occurred int he following manner:
- "* * * the claimant came home and told her parents that she wanted to marry R. Her parents then took her to the hogan of R. Both sets of parents discussed the marriage and gave their consent. Then, the parents wished both parties good luck in the future, a prosperous life, etc."
At that time they were members of the Navajo Tribe, maintaining tribal relations and following the tribal customs and laws.
W and R did not obtain a tribal marriage license although one was required by tribal law. They stated they believed that the license was only for the purpose of notifying the Bureau of Indian Affairs of their marriage and had nothing to do with the validity of the marriage itself.
W and R lived together as man and wife, in Arizona, from June 1, 1957,until R's death.
The question is whether W is R's widow under the provisions of section 216(h)(1) of the Social Security Act. All other requirements for entitlement were met by W.
Under section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Act, a woman is the widow of a worker for purposes of mother's insurance benefits if the courts of the State in which he was domiciled at the time of his death 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 widow for purposes of sharing in the distribution of his intestate personal property.
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 have been validly married to the worker for purposes of entitlement to mother's insurance benefits for months after August 1960, if she meets all of the following conditions: (1) She in good faith went through a marriage ceremony with the worker, not knowing of a legal impediment which made the marriage invalid; (2) the legal impediment resulted: (i) from the continued existence of a prior marriage of either party, or arose out of the dissolution of the prior marriage, or (ii) from a defect in the procedure followed in connection with the claimant's ceremonial marriage to the worker; (3) she was living in the same household with the worker when he died; and (4) at the time she files application, there is no other woman who meets the requirements of section 216(h)(1)(A) and who is or has been entitled to wife's, widow's, or mother's insurance benefits on the worker's earnings record.
W cannot meet the requirements in section 216(h)(1)(A) since she and R did not obtain a tribal marriage license. Therefore, their marriage was not valid under tribal law and would not be recognized as valid in Arizona, the State of R's last domicile, and W would not have the status of R's widow for purposes of sharing in the distribution of his intestate personal property.
R and W went through a tribal custom marriage which involved visits to the hogans of the bride's and groom's parents, a discussion of the marriage between both sets of parents, the giving of consent, and wishing R and W good luck and a prosperous life. These formalities were sufficient to constitute a marriage "ceremony" within the meaning of section 216(h)(1)(B). Since the reason the marriage was invalid was due to a procedural defect, i.e., the failure of R and W to get a marriage license, and since both parties went through the ceremony in good faith believing their marriage to be valid, W was living in the same household with R when he died, and R was not survived by a legal widow, it is held that W may qualify as the widow of R under section 216(h)(1)(B) and is entitled to the mother's insurance benefits for which she applied, all other requirements for entitlement having been met.