You have asked whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) may change the number
holder’s name in her Numident based on a marriage document that was not issued by
a State and a memorandum from the Department of the Air Force concluding the number
holder participated in a valid common law marriage.
The marriage document and memorandum from the Department of the Air Force are insufficient
evidence for a legal name change based on a marriage in South Carolina.
According to the information provided, Caroline, the number holder (NH), applied for
a replacement Social Security card and asked SSA to change her name to Caroline .
NH requested the name change based on her purported marriage to Aaron. NH provided
a document signed by Pastor Dan stating that on March 2, 2014, he joined NH and Aaron
in holy matrimony in Hartsville, South Carolina. Twenty witnesses, including NH’s
parents, also signed the document stating they were present at the ceremony and that
they affirm and support the marriage. NH also provided a memorandum from the Department
of the Air Force, stating the Air Force had found the marriage between NH and Aaron
to be legally sufficient, and the documentation provided established a valid common
law marriage. The memorandum does not describe the documents or the standards the
Air Force considered in making its determination. NH also provided a copy of her South
Carolina driver’s license with the name Caroline and a copy of an identification card
from United States Uniform Services with the signature Caroline NH did not provide
a marriage license, and the marriage document NH submitted does not indicate it was
issued by the State of South Carolina or any other State.
Social Security regulations provide that a number holder may request that SSA change
her records, including her name. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 401.65, 422.110 (2014).  The number holder must present convincing documentary evidence to justify a change
in her records. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 422.107, 422.110(a). To process a name change, the number holder must
provide evidence of the name change event, a new name, and the number holder’s identity
on the latest Numident record. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.107(a), (c); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RM 10210.015(A); POMS RM 10212.015(A). SSA recognizes a number of events as the basis for a name change, including common
law marriages.  See POMS RM 10212.010.
To show a name change based on a common law marriage, the submitted documentation
must be acceptable evidence of a name change for the State where the marriage was
legalized. See POMS RM 10212.030. In determining whether the document submitted is acceptable evidence for a name
change, SSA generally follows State statutory law. See POMS RM 10212.015(B), POMS RM 10212.030. Because NH’s purported marriage occurred in South Carolina, we look to South Carolina
South Carolina provides that a mentally competent man and woman at least sixteen years
of age, who are not otherwise, married or closely related, may marry. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 20-1-10, 20-1-80, 20-1-100. South Carolina statutory law generally
renders it unlawful for a person to contract marriage in South Carolina without first
procuring a license or for a person to perform a marriage ceremony without first receiving
a valid marriage license from the persons to be married. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-210. However, a marriage is not rendered illegal because it
is contracted without the issuance of a license. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-360. A common law marriage is formed when two parties contract
to be married. See Callen v. Callen, 620 S.E.2d 59, 62 (S.C. 2005). An express contract is not required as an agreement
can be inferred from the circumstances. See id. Both parties must intend to be married and have a mutual understanding of each party’s
intent. See id. The consideration for the agreement is participation in the marriage. See id. South Carolina permits a married couple to establish an official record of an unlicensed
marriage by filing with the county official whose duty it is to record marriages:
(a) an affidavit of one or more witnesses to the marriage; (b) an affidavit of two
or more reputable persons who were informed of the marriage and have knowledge that
the persons claiming to be married have lived together as husband and wife; and (c)
a certificate from the person officiating at that marriage if he were a minister of
the Gospel or a person qualified by law to administer an oath. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-570. This official record will be accepted by all courts in
the State as conclusive evidence of the marriage and shall have the same force and
effect of the marriage records required by law. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-580.
South Carolina permits an individual to change her name if she petitions a family
court judge in writing setting forth the reason for the change, her age, her place
of residence and birth, and the name by which she desires to be known. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-49-10(A).  South Carolina does not require the petitioner provide any additional information
or documentation if the petitioner is seeking to change her name as a result of the
petitioner’s marriage. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-49-20(A) (excluding those who are petitioning to change their
names based on marriage from including the additional information listed in the subsection).
 Following a hearing and upon consideration of the petition, the reason in the petition,
and other documentation, the family court judge will grant or refuse the name change.
See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-49-20(C). The statutes pertaining to driver licenses and registration
of vehicles do not specify what documentation is required to change a name on a South
Carolina driver’s license or registration card. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 56-1-230, 56-3-1300. However, the website for the South Carolina’s
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) states that a person may change her name on a South
Carolina driver’s license or registration card by visiting a DMV office, completing
Form 4057, and presenting proper documentation such as a “marriage certificate, divorce
decree or court order.” 
The documents NH provided are insufficient for a name change in South Carolina. See POMS RM 10212.030. NH presented a document indicating she was married to Aaron on March 2, 2014, but
the document was not issued by the State and there is no indication that NH procured
a marriage license. The evidence provided also does not indicate NH has petitioned
the State for a name change or that a family court judge issued an order granting
such a petition. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 15-49-10, 15-49-20. Moreover, NH’s driver’s license, which lists
her last name as D~, indicates NH has not applied for or secured sufficient documentation
to change her name on her driver’s license. South Carolina’s DMV indicates a person
can change her name on her driver’s license only by presenting a marriage license,
a State issued marriage certificate, a divorce decree, or a court order.
Further, the evidence NH submitted does not clearly establish a valid common law marriage
under South Carolina law. Although the marriage document evidences an express contract
to marry and intent by both parties to marry, see Callen, 620 S.E.2d at 62, the document does not show the parties meet the other requirements
for a valid marriage, such as both being of legal age, mentally competent, or unmarried
at the time of the union, see S.C. Code Ann. §§ 20-1-10, 20-1-80, 20-1-100. NH also has not submitted documentation
sufficient to create an official record of her unlicensed marriage per South Carolina
statutory law, including statements from two or more reputable persons who were informed
of the marriage and have knowledge that NH and Aaron have lived together as husband
and wife. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-570. NH submitted a memorandum from the Department of the Air
Force recognizing her relationship with Aaron as a common law marriage, but the memorandum
does not identify what documentation she submitted to the Air Force or provide the
standard by which the Air Force determined a common law marriage existed.
Although the documents NH submitted are not sufficient for a name change in South
Carolina, which is required by SSA’s POMS for a name change, see POMS RM 10212.030, we note the marriage document includes the signatures of the spouses and two blood
relatives (NH’s parents) attesting to the marriage, which is the preferred evidence
for a common law marriage for living spouses under SSA’s regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.726(b).
Based on the above legal authority, the marriage document NH submitted and the memorandum
from the Department of the Air Force are insufficient evidence for a name change based
on a marriage in South Carolina.
Mary Ann Sloan
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel