20 CFR 404.1101(c)(3)
This case came before the Appeals Council under authority of section 404.957 of Social Security Administration Regulations No. 4, to reopen and revise a hearing decision.
In his decision, the administrative law judge found, in effect, that the claimant had status as a widow pursuant to section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act and that she was, therefore, entitled to widow's insurance benefits. Section 216(h)(1)(B) provides that an applicant for widow's benefits may be deemed to be a widow if she in good faith went through a marriage ceremony which, except for a "legal impediment" not known to her at the time of the ceremony, would have resulted in a valid marriage. This section of the Act further provides that a "legal impediment" includes only an impediment "(i) resulting from the lack of dissolution of a previous marriage or otherwise arising out of such previous marriage or its dissolution, or (ii) resulting from a defect in the procedure followed in connection with such purported marriage."
The general issue before the Appeals Council is whether the claimant is entitled to widow's insurance benefits. Specifically at issue is whether she has status as the widow of the wage earner.
The wage earner died on February 22, 1978, domiciled in Nebraska. The claimant ceremonially married the wage earned on May 20, 1930, in Iowa. The claimant and wage earner are first cousins because their fathers were brothers.
Under both the law of Nebraska (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-103) and the law of Iowa (Iowa Code Ann. § 595.19) the marriage of first cousins is prohibited and any such marriage is void. Accordingly, the claimant would not be recognized as the widow of the wage earner by the courts of Nebraska because the Iowa marriage was void. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-117). Therefore, she cannot acquire the necessary status as a widow under section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Act. This section provides that an applicant will have the status of a widow if the courts of the State where the wage earner was domiciled at the time of his death would find that she and the wage earner were validly married at the time of his death or that she could inherit his intestate personal property as his widow.
The administrative law judge found that the claimant's marriage was invalid because of a legal impediment caused by a defect in the procedure followed in connection with the ceremony. He reasoned that if the proper procedures had been followed a license would not have been issued and a ceremony would not have taken place.
The Appeals Council does not agree with the administrative law judge's reasoning. The claimant's marriage to the wage earner could never have been a valid marriage under Iowa law. She did not go through a marriage ceremony with the wage earner which, but for a specified legal impediment "would have been a valid marriage." The legal impediments specified in section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act are only those arising out of a prior marriage or a defect in procedure. There is no prior marriage in this case and even if the procedure followed in connection with the marriage was correct, it could still not be a valid marriage under Iowa or Nebraska law. The defect is one of substance and not procedure.
The Appeals Council concludes that the deemed marriage provisions of section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act do not apply to marriages which are void because they are within prohibited bounds of affinity. The two parties to such a marriage could never be legally married under State law even if the legal impediments specified were not present.
Accordingly, the Appeals Council finds that the claimant cannot acquire the status of widow pursuant to section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act and is, therefore, not entitled to widow's benefits under section 202(e) of the Act.
Back to Table of Contents