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Thank you for your patience.
1) Common law marriage does not exist in Arizona. In other words, the State of Arizona does not allow individuals to enter into a common-law marriage. However, Washington recognizes a common law marriage.
2) Also, the time that you spent married to him from 1997 to your official divorce may
be used for application for surviving benefits if it meets all the other criteria.
3) The VA will recognize your official marriage, and it will ALSO RECOGNIZE your common law marriage if you spent the common law marriage years in a state wherein it is recognized - and you did - in WA. It does not matter that you moved to AZ (a state that does not recognize common law marriage) later. A valid common law marriage established in a state recognizing such marriages continues to be valid if the parties later move to a state not recognizing common law marriages.
3) To prove a common law marriage in WA, you need to show that (1) you lived together, (2) you counted yourselves as married, and (3) you introduced yourselves as married to others. This is subjective, but may be achieved via paperwork such as bank statements, etc.
4) As such, I believe that you would qualify
for VA benefits for (1) the official marriage, and (2) the common law marriage years spent in WA, even if you now live in AZ.
To file for benefits off a common law marriage, you can use the VA Form 21-4170, Statement of Marital Relationship, here
I hope this helps and clarifies. Good luck.
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