asked the Minister for Social Welfare why a widow is refused her contributory widow's pension because her husband divorced her under another jurisdiction while she has continued to regard herself a married woman, and seeks a widow's pension on the death of her divorced husband.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Widow's Contributory Pension.
I presume that the case the Deputy has in mind is that in which he has been in correspondence with my Department recently. In that case the husband was domiciled in England and obtained a divorce there. In dealing with the question of widowhood the deciding officer took into account the fact that under our law the divorce in England of a person domiciled in England is effective to dissolve the marriage and that this dissolution is recognised as being so effective in this country. He, accordingly, disallowed the claim to widow's pension on the grounds that the claimant had not established that she was a widow and his decision was upheld by an appeals officer.
Are we now in the absurd position that, so long as the deceased gentleman was alive, the lady was deemed under our law to be a married woman who would commit bigamy if she married a second time and the moment the man died we declared she is not a widow because she was divorced from the man? Though she would have committed bigamy if she had married secondly while he was alive, she is not a widow when he is dead. If that is the law it is very bad law.
It did not cost anything when she was a married woman.
Would the Minister reconsider his position and use the discretion vested in him to overrule so obviously fantastic a decision which can declare this woman is not a widow when her divorced husband has died?
I will consider the position, particularly in so far as the Minister for Finance announced in his Budget special consideration regarding deserted wives generally, and I will see what can be done. This case is governed by legal advice, as established in this country and as recognised by the courts. Mark you, I can quote instances where it has reacted to the benefit of people, because we held the view that they were really married despite the charge of bigamy and ultimately became widows.
Does the Minister not believe that to maintain a legal fiction that a woman would commit bigamy, certainly in the eyes of the Church to which she belongs, throughout the long life of the man who had divorced her, that divorce not being valid in the eyes of the Church to which she belongs, means that she is not entitled to be looked on as a widow when the man dies? I understand in those exceptional cases the Minister has discretion to review the decision of an appeals officer. I would ask the Minister to exercise that discretion.
Can the Minister not go beyond the appeals officer?
It could probably be brought to court for a declaration.