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Tax Court Rules Second Marriage Valid After Multiple Divorce Attempts

Second wife deemed a surviving spouse eligible for marital deduction.

In Semone Grossman v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2021-065 (May 27, 2021), the Tax Court ruled on whether the decedent’s second marriage was valid for purposes of the marital deduction by assessing the marriage under New York law; however, the Tax Court noted that it wasn’t deciding whether it was required to apply New York Law, a revenue ruling or a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The question of validity developed from the decedent’s multiple divorce attempts before his second marriage. After a New York court declared the decedent’s Mexican divorce invalid, the decedent obtained a religious divorce under rabbinical law. The decedent then married his second wife in Israel under Jewish law. The Israeli marriage certificate noted that the decedent was free to re-marry because he was divorced.

The IRS argued that the Tax Court should apply New York Law to determine whether the second marriage was valid. The estate asserted that revenue rulings and a Second Circuit decision was the determinative law. Without indicating which standard was correct, the Tax Court briefly explained the three proposed tests for determining whether a marriage is valid. Under New York Law, a marriage is valid as long as it’s valid in the place where it was celebrated, unless the marriage is contrary to public policy or violates “positive law” (for example, a statute). (See Van Voorhis v. Brintnall, 86 N.Y. 18, 24–26 (1881)). Under IRS revenue rulings, as long as the marriage is valid in the place of celebration, the marriage is valid, regardless of the law in the state where the parties lived.

The court applied New York law without deciding which standard was correct. Under New York law, the second marriage was valid because it was recognized in Israel, wasn’t contrary to public policy and didn’t violate any New York statute; therefore, the second wife qualified as a surviving spouse eligible for the marital deduction.

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