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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).