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New Jersey Court Rejects Common Law Marriage as Basis for Dependency Benefits in Workers’ Comp Claim

By on March 28, 2014 in Key Defenses with 1 Comment

Bobbie Kehoe and Scott Sunkimat began cohabiting in their home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey in 1999.  They made a life-long commitment to each other to spend their lives together but declined to marry.  They shared utility bills and bank accounts and both of their names were on the deed to their home.  Bobbie Kehoe was the sole beneficiary of Scott Sunkimat’s retirement plan, but she was not the beneficiary of his life insurance policy.  The two represented themselves as husband and wife in public.

In March 2007, the decedent fell from a platform while engaged in the performance of his duties as an employee of Ultralum Enterprises.  The fall arose out of and in the course of employment.

Bobbie Kehoe filed a dependency claim petition asserting that she was the decedent’s surviving spouse.  She argued that during a two-week visit to Texas in 2004, she and decedent established the elements of a common law marriage under Texas law by (1) agreeing that they were then married; and (2) cohabitating as husband and wife; and (3) representing to others that they were husband and wife. A family relative testified that the two did indeed represent themselves as husband and wife while in Texas.

The Judge of Compensation denied the claim because New Jersey does not recognize common law marriages.  The Court said, “Here, it is undisputed that petitioner and the decedent were never formally married under New Jersey law.  On the facts presented, petitioner is not entitled to benefits under N.J.S.A. 34:15-13(f).  Petitioner’s argument based on the recognition of common law marriages by the State of Texas lacks sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion.

This case can be found at Kehoe v. Ultralum Enterprises, Inc., A-4531-12T4 (App. Div. March 18, 2014).

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John H. Geaney

About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, an executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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