TN 24 (08-12)

PR 01005.004 Arizona

A. PR 12-116 Eligibility for Auxiliary Benefits as Child of Wage Earner Who Voluntarily Terminated Parental Rights – Arizona Wage Earner: Scott  Claimant: Mason

DATE: July 9, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

Under Arizona intestacy law, a person is the child of that person’s natural parents, regardless of their marital status. NH is claimant’s biological father. Thus, under Arizona law, claimant can establish a “natural” parent-child relationship with the claimant for the purpose of intestate succession, regardless of the lack of certain parental rights or obligations, and actual dependency.

The claimant’s right to inherit from the wage earner was not affected by the wage earner’s custody and support agreement with the claimant’s mother, nor would it be affected by a court order terminating the parent-child relationship. In this case, the claimant can be considered the wage earner’s child under Arizona law because he has a parent-child relationship with the wage earner for the purpose of intestate succession.

Generally, Arizona law provides that adoption completely severs the rights of the child’s former parents. However, Arizona inheritance law contains a specific exception for step-parent adoptions: A child can inherit intestate from his or her adoptive parents, but can also inherit from the natural parents when the adoptive parent is the spouse of either natural parent.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You asked (1) whether court documents provided by the wage earner terminated his status as the claimant’s parent under Arizona state law, thus impacting the claimant’s eligibility for child’s benefits under the Social Security Act, beginning September 2006; and (2) if so, whether the agency properly terminated the claimant’s benefits.

SHORT ANSWER

No, these documents do not affect the claimant’s status as the wage earner’s child under the Act. The agency should not have terminated the claimant’s benefits.

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

Neither the wage earner, Scott, nor Michelle (now Michelle ) disputes that Scott is the biological parent of the claimant, Mason (now Mason ).

In December 2005, Scott petitioned the Arizona Superior Court, family court part, to end his child support, custody, and parenting time obligations to Mason.  On December 20, 2005, both Scott and Michelle signed a “stipulation to modify custody, parenting time and child support.” 

On December 23, 2005, the Superior Court judge signed an “order to modify custody, parenting time and child support” based on the stipulation. The order indicated that the “parties have stipulated and agreed to termination of the Father’s parental rights and will be filing a separate action in the Juvenile Court of Maricopa County to terminate Father’s parental rights.” Although the court indicated that the parties “will be filing” a separate action to terminate Scott’s parental rights, the agency has not received evidence showing that they filed such an action.  Rather, it appears that Scott submitted only the stipulation and order to “modify custody, parenting time and child support” as the sole evidence of legal termination of rights.

In its order, the Court found that Michelle was financially capable of supporting Mason, that it was in Mason’s best interest that Scott not pay any further child support, and that Michelle had waived any future claim to child support. It also ordered Michelle to maintain medical insurance on Mason and to pay any medical or dental expenses.  The order specified that only Michelle should claim Mason as a child dependent for income tax purposes, and that Scott would “have no further contact or parenting time” with Mason.

On April 28, 2006, Scott applied for disability insurance benefits (DIB). The agency found him disabled beginning March 25, 2006.

On September 1, 2006, an auxiliary application was filed for Mason and thereafter the agency started paying Mason on Scott’s record.

In an undated statement, Based on the context of the statement, it appears to be a written follow-up to a phone conversation between Michelle and field office personnel on September 1, 2006.

Michelle advised the agency that Scott had given up “all legal rights” to Mason, and that she was Mason’s only legal guardian.  She stated that Mason had not yet been adopted by her husband, Mark, but they were planning on doing so. She also stated that she was in the process of changing Mason’s legal name to Mason. Information provided with this opinion request indicates that Mason’s legal name was changed to Mason, but his name remains Mason on agency records.

On February 24, 2009, Michelle signed a statement attesting that Mason currently lived with her and her husband, Mark, but Mason had “never been adopted by anyone” and was still Scott’s biological son.

On May 22, 2012, Michelle submitted a signed statement attesting that Mason had never been adopted by her current husband, Mark. She indicated that Scott remains listed as the father on Mason’s birth certificate, and that “the state still recognizes Scott as [Mason’s] biological father with no parental rights.”

The evidence indicates that the wage earner currently lives in Florida.  However, he lived in Arizona when he entered into the custody and child support agreement in 2005, and when the application for child’s benefits was submitted in 2006. Additionally, the claimant1 currently lives in Arizona.

ANALYSIS

The claimants were born within the marriage, and this creates a presumption under Arizona law that the claimants are the biological children of the wage earner. Pyeatte v. Pyeatte, 21 Ariz. App. 448, 450, 520 P.2d 542, 544 (1974) citing Anonymous v. Anonymous, 10 Ariz. App. 496, 499, 460 P.2d 32, 35 (1969). Arizona law provides that a judicial termination of a parent-child relationship divests the parent and the child of all legal rights, privileges, duties and obligations with respect to each other except the right of the child to inherit from, and to receive support from, the parent. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-539. See e.g., Schnepp v. State Department of Economic Security, 183 Ariz. 24, 28, 899 P.2d 185, 189 (1995). This contrasts sharply with the effect of termination under Nevada law.

Under the Social Security Act (Act), a child is entitled to Child’s Insurance Benefits if he or she applies; is the “child,” of an “insured individual;” The definition of “child” includes the legally adopted child, stepchild, or in limited circumstances, grandchild of an insured individual. Social Security Act § 216(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.354. An “insured individual” is an individual who is entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1).

is unmarried and a minor (or meets disability requirements) at the time of the application; and was dependent on the insured wage earner at the time the application is filed. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350. 

In determining whether a claimant qualifies as the child of the insured individual, the Commissioner applies the law governing “the devolution of intestate personal property by the courts of the State in which such insured individual is domiciled . . . at the time the application was filed.” Social Security Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355. If an applicant establishes that he or she is the insured’s child under section 216(h)(2) of the Act, the applicant is deemed dependent upon the insured, unless he or she has been adopted by someone else and the insured is not living with the child or contributing to the child’s support.  Social Security Act § 202(d)(3); 20 C.F.R. § 404.361. An applicant who is the son or daughter of an individual entitled to DIB, but who is not (and is not deemed to be) the child of such insured individual under section 216(h)(2) of the Act, “shall nevertheless be deemed” to be the child of such insured individual if the child is his biological child and one of the provisions in section 216(h)(3)(B) is satisfied.

Here, the wage earner’s state of domicile was Arizona when he applied for benefits. Therefore, we must determine whether Arizona probate law permits the claimant to inherit from him as his child under the laws of intestate succession.

A.   The wage earner is the claimant’s “natural parent” under Arizona law.

Under Arizona intestacy law, “a person is the child of that person’s natural parents, regardless of their marital status.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-2114(A). See also Program Operations Manual Support (POMS) GN 00306.420 (establishing paternity under Arizona law where the issue is in dispute). The intestacy provisions do not define the term “natural parents.” However, Arizona case-law indicates that “natural parent” means “biological parent.” See, e.g., Anonymous Wife v. Anonymous Husband, 739 P.2d 794 (Ariz. 1987) (using the term “natural father” to refer to biological father of child in paternity and child support proceedings); Matter of Estate of R~, 928 P.2d 735, 738 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1996) (equating the term “biological parent” with the term “natural parent” used in Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-2114(B)).

Scott is Mason’s biological father.  Thus, under Arizona law, Mason can establish a “natural” parent-child relationship with Scott for the purpose of intestate succession, regardless of the lack of certain parental rights or obligations, and actual dependency. 

B.    The claimant’s right to inherit from the wage earner was not affected by the wage earner’s custody and support agreement with the claimant’s mother, nor would it be affected by a court order terminating the parent-child relationship.

The evidence provided indicates only that Scott obtained a court order releasing him from his state-law support and caregiving obligations to Mason.  The available evidence does not indicate that either Scott or Michelle petitioned the Arizona juvenile court to terminate Scott’s parent-child relationship with Mason.  Arizona requires a formal process to terminate parental rights that cannot be accomplished merely by mutual agreement. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 8-533 – 8-538 (procedures governing a petition for terminating the parent-child relationship include a hearing, a social study performed by a third party, and satisfaction of statutory grounds for severance of relationship).  The December 2005 Superior Court order indicating that the parents would need to file a separate juvenile court action to terminate parental rights seems consistent with the requirements of Arizona law. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-532(A) (providing that the juvenile court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over petitions to terminate the parent-child relationship).

More importantly, even if Scott obtained an order terminating the parent-child relationship, under Arizona law Mason would still retain his right to inherit intestate from Scott. “An order terminating the parent-child relationship shall divest the parent and the child of all legal rights, privileges, duties and obligations with respect to each other except the right of the child to inherit and support from the parent.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-539 (emphasis added); see POMS PR 01005.004 Arizona (recognizing and applying Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-539 to conclude children remained eligible for benefits after wage earner’s parental rights were terminated). Arizona law is specific that the “right of inheritance and support shall only be terminated by a final order of adoption.” Id.; see also Schnepp v. Arizona, 899 P.2d 185, 189 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1995).

C.    The “natural parent” relationship was not severed by adoption.

Generally, Arizona law provides that adoption “completely sever[s]” the rights of the child’s former parents. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8117(A)-(B). For purposes of intestate inheritance, a person is the child of the adopting parent or parents and not of the natural parents. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 142114(B). 

However, Arizona inheritance law contains a specific exception for step-parent adoptions: A child can inherit intestate from his or her adoptive parents, but can also inherit from the natural parents when the adoptive parent is the spouse of either natural parent.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 8-117, 142114(B) (“Adoption of a child by the spouse of either natural parent has no effect on the relationship between the child and that natural parent or on the right of the child or a descendant of the child to inherit from or through the other natural parent.”).  Arizona courts have upheld this exception and harmonized the potentially conflicting provisions of Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 8-117 and 14-2114(B) by understanding them to address “different facets of adoption”. See Edonna v. Heckman, 253 P.3d 627, 630 n.4 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2011); Estate of R~, 928 P.2d at 738.

Michelle initially submitted a statement that her current husband intended to adopt Mason but later submitted two signed, dated, statements attesting that Mason had never been adopted by her husband or anyone else.  She also indicated that Scott is still listed as the father on Mason’s birth certificate. Although the evidence submitted to OGC did not include a copy of the birth certificate, this fact does not appear to be in dispute. 

The agency has no evidence contradicting Michelle’s statement that Mason has not been adopted. Therefore, Mason’s “natural” parent-child relationship with Scott was not severed by adoption. 

In addition, whether the agency has evidence of an adoption by Michelle’s husband does not determine the outcome for this claim. Even if Michelle’s husband had adopted Mason, Mason would remain eligible for child’s benefits on Scott’s record because Arizona’s law on intestate succession permits inheritance from the natural parent even after a child is adopted by the other natural parent’s spouse. Furthermore, even if Arizona law did not include this inheritance exception for step-parent adoptions, a child may remain eligible for benefits even after adoption, depending on the date of the adoption. POMS RS 00203.035(C) provides that “[t]he adoption of a child already entitled to benefits does not terminate the child’s benefits.” 

See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 142114(B); Estate of R~, 928 P.2d at 738.

Because the evidence does not show that Mason has been adopted by someone other than Michelle’s spouse, he remains Scott’s child for the purpose of intestate succession under Arizona law.

CONCLUSION

The claimant can be considered the wage earner’s child under Arizona law because he has a parent-child relationship with the wage earner for the purpose of intestate succession. We conclude that the claimant is the wage earner’s child as defined in section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act. Thus, the claimant is eligible for benefits on the wage earner’s account and should be reinstated.

 

B. PR 04-324 (Arizona) Entitlement to Survivor's Benefits: Children of Deceased Wage Earner and Effect, Under Arizona Law, of a Nevada Court Order Terminating Deceased Wage Earner's Parental Rights Marc, Decedent Wage Earner, ~Pamela, Mother Marc a/k/a Marc, II, Child Joshua a/k/a Joshua, Child

DATE: August 31, 2004

1. SYLLABUS

A Nevada court order that terminates the NH's parental rights with respect to the children claiming benefits on his record does not affect their right to inherit from him under the law of Arizona, the State in which he was domiciled at death.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You have asked whether a Nevada court order which terminates a father's ("wage earner") parental rights affects the eligibility of the wage earner's two minor children ("claimants") for child's insurance benefits under federal or Arizona law.

ANSWER

The claimants qualify as the children of the wage earner for purposes of their claims for child's insurance benefits on the wage earner's record.

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

On May 28, 1997, the Second Judicial Court of the State of Nevada, County of Washoe (the "court"), issued an order terminating the wage earner's parental rights. The court found that the claimants were born on March and June; that Pamela ("mother") is the natural mother and legal guardian of the claimants; that the wage earner is the father of the claimants; that the mother and the wage earner were married but in the process of getting divorced; and that the wage earner committed abandonment of the claimants as that term is defined under Nevada Revised Statutes, section 128.105(1) and (7). The wage earner did not appear at the proceedings, either in person or through legal representative. The court ordered that a parent and child relationship existed between the wage earner and the claimants; that the parental rights of the wage earner were terminated; and that the claimants were declared free from the custody and control of the wage earner.

At the hearing, the claimant's mother made an oral request before the court to issue an order changing the surnames of the claimants from the surnames of the wage earner to the surname of their mother. On June 13, 1997, the court issued a supplemental order changing the surnames of the claimants from that of the wage earner to the surname of their mother. The court also ordered that new birth certificates be issued which reflected the name change for each of the claimants. Thereafter, the wage earner died while domiciled in the State of Arizona.

The mother has now applied, on behalf of the claimants, for child's insurance benefits on the account of the wage earner, contending that the claimants should be considered the wage earner's children.

ANALYSIS

In order to receive child's insurance benefits, an individual must be the dependent child of the wage earner. Social Security Act § 202(d), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). SSA must look to the law of the state where the wage earner was domiciled at the time of his death to determine whether the claimants would be entitled to inherit from the wage earner as his children under that state's law of intestate succession (i.e., as if the decedent left no will). Social Security Act § 216(h)(2)(A), 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A). SSA applies the intestacy laws of the domiciliary state, not conflict of laws principles, in making this determination. Campbell ex rel Campbell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 890, 892 (9th Cir. 1999). If the claimants would be entitled to inherit, then the claimants would be eligible for child's insurance benefits on the account of the wage earner. Id.

The wage earner was domiciled in Arizona when he died; thus Arizona intestacy laws determine whether the claimants are considered children of the wage earner. Arizona intestate succession laws provide that a person is the child of that person's natural parents, regardless of the parent's marital status. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-2114(A). The property of a person dying without a will in Arizona passes to his surviving spouse and his "descendants". Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-2103(1). A "descendant" is defined as all of the deceased's descendants of all generations, with the relationship of parent and child at each generation. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-1201(11). A "child" is defined as a person who is entitled to take as a child under this title by intestate succession from the parent whose relationship is involved. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-1201(5). A "parent" is defined as a person entitled to take, or who would be entitled to take if the child died without a will, as a parent under this title by intestate succession from the child whose relationship is in question. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-1201(35).

The claimants were born within the marriage, and this creates a presumption under Arizona law that the claimants are the biological children of the wage earne