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Is It True That I Can't Qualify For Widow's Benefits Based On A Common Law Marriage Because I Now Live In North Carolina?

I'm 62 and was married in colorado to my husband for 5 months. We were together for 17 years and considered common law married.
After he passed, I moved to North Carolina.
I called the social security office in Colorado to ask about widow's benefits.
They explained that if I still lived in Colorado, I would be eligible for a widow's benefit. Because I live in North Carolina and they don't recognize common law marriages, they said I am entitled to no benefit.
This doesn't seem right....
Can you comment to verify this for me? I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thank you!

Hi,

No, what you were told is not correct. The validity of a common law marriage is generally determined by the laws of the state in which it was established, not by the laws of the state in which the person currently resides.

If you established a valid common law marriage in Colorado that lasted for at least 9 months and if your marriage ended in death, then if you meet the other requirements for widow's benefits you should be able to qualify for those benefits regardless of the fact that you now live in North Carolina (https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.04/handbook-0401.html). But, if you divorced prior to the time of your husband's death then your common law marriage would need to have lasted for at least 10 years in order for you to potentially qualify for surviving divorced spousal benefits.

Although common law marriages can't be established North Carolina, that state does recognize common law marriages that were legally established in other states. To view a summary of a legal case that documents that precedent, refer to the following section of Social Security's operations manual: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/1505605036.

Best, Jerry

Category: 
Posted: 
Feb 9 2021 - 2:04pm
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