Many of the women and men who are killed in on-the-job accidents were the sole or primary breadwinners in their households. As a result, their families may struggle to make ends meet after their loved one’s death. To make up for this tragic loss, the workers’ compensation system provides death benefits to the victim’s surviving spouse and children. But, is a common law spouse entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits as well?
What is Common Law Marriage?
Many states do not recognize common law marriages, but Oklahoma is one of the few states that does. A common law marriage exists when a couple lives together and acts as a married couple, but never officially obtain a marriage license or have a ceremony. Couples must also be legally eligible for marriage in order to have a common law marriage. This means both parties must be unmarried and of legal age to marry. The couple must also live together for a long period of time or the state will not recognize their relationship as a common law marriage.
Can A Common Law Spouse Receive Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits?
According to OK Stat § 85A-47, the victim’s surviving spouse is entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits after a work-related fatality. However, the law explicitly states that common law spouses are not entitled to these benefits unless they are able to prove that a legitimate common law marriage existed.
A common law spouse must ask the court to rule that a common law marriage existed so they can recover benefits for their partner’s death. The court will need to see proof of the common law marriage before ruling in the spouse’s favor. Evidence may include testimony from family and friends, financial records that show the couple’s shared assets and debts, and jointly filed tax returns. The common law spouse can also submit evidence that shows the couple named each other as beneficiaries to insurance policies. This type of evidence shows the court that the couple was in a relationship similar to a marriage even though they never actually got married.
If the court recognizes the common law marriage, the workers’ compensation system must treat the common law spouse the same way the system would treat a legally married spouse.
Have you lost your common law spouse in a work-related accident? If so, contact Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. at once. Our experienced attorneys will work tirelessly to help the Workers’ Compensation Commission recognize your common law marriage. Call us now at 918-582-2500, toll free at (800) 722-8880, or contact us online for a free consultation with a skilled attorney.