Marvella H~ is currently entitled as a child on the earnings record of Marvin S. H~.
The Kansas City region asked us for a legal opinion concerning whether genetic test
results obtained after the death of Mr. H~, which show that he was not the biological
father of Marvella H~, are sufficient to permit the agency to reopen the determination
awarding benefits and to find that Marvella was not entitled to child's benefits under
section 216(h)(3) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3). For the reasons
that follow, we believe that the Indiana Juvenile Court's finding of paternity is
binding and requires the award of benefits.
Marvella was born on November 14, 1986. On February 13, 1987, Mr. H~ and Marvella's
mother, Wilma I~, filed a voluntary joint petition to establish paternity with the
Juvenile Court in Indiana. In the petition, Mr. H~ admitted that he was Marvella's
father, and he agreed to pay child support and expenses. The Juvenile Court adjudged
Mr. H~ to be Marvella's "natural father" and ordered him to begin paying support.
Ten years later, in February 1997, Mr. H~ became entitled to disability insurance
benefits. In his application, he named Marvella as his child. Marvella began receiving
benefits based on Mr. H~' written acknowledgment that he was her father and based
on the court order adjudicating him to be her natural father and ordering him to pay
In June 1998, Mr. H~ provided blood for a paternity test. (We have no information
concerning why Mr. H~ began looking into his paternity at that time.) One month later,
in July 1998, Mr. H~ died. Shortly after his death, the blood test results showed
that he was not Marvella's natural father. These results were presented to SSA by
Mr. H~'s brother, Norman H~, who asked that Marvella not be entitled to benefits on
Mr. H~'s account. 
Under the Social Security Act, the "child" of an insured wage earner may receive benefits.
In order to be considered the "child," the child must be the "son or daughter" of
the wage earner and must meet certain conditions, which we discuss below. Here, Marvella's
relationship to the wage earner was established by a state court order in 1987 and
by the wage-earner's written acknowledgment on his application. Although additional
evidence received now raises questions concerning the biological relationship, we
believe that SSA is bound by the state court determination.
1. The Social Security Act's Definition of "Child"
Section 202(d) of the Social Security Act provides for the payment of benefits to
the "child" of an insured wage earner who is retired, disabled, or deceased. 42 U.S.C.
§ 402(d). The Act defines "child" by reference to section 216(e) of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 416(e), which states that a child for purposes of the Act is "the child or legally
adopted child of an individual; (2) a stepchild (who has been a step child for a particular
period of time); (3) a grandchild or stepgrandchild (if certain conditions are met).
Section 216(h)(2) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2), in turn, provides that "[i]n
determining whether an application is the child" of an insured person, "the Commissioner
of Social Security shall apply such law as would be applied in determining the devolution
of intestate personal property by the courts of the state" where the insured individual
is domiciled at the time of application or death. An applicant for benefits who would
have the same status of a child relative to taking the intestate personal property
of the insured individual is "deemed" to be the insured's child.
If the claimant is not a "child" under the intestate succession laws, the Act allows
alternative ways for the child to show entitlement. First, if the applicant is the
son or daughter of the insured individual he or she can be deemed to be the child
if the parents went though a marriage ceremony that would have resulted in a valid
marriage, but for a legal impediment. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(B). Second, if the applicant
is the son or daughter of the insured individual, she or he can be deemed to be the
child if the insured acknowledged in writing that the applicant is his or her son
or daughter. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A)(i)(I). Third, if the applicant is the son or
daughter of the insured individual, she or he can be deemed to be the child if the
insured has been decreed by a court to be the mother or father of the applicant. 42
U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A)(i)(II). Fourth, if the applicant is the son or daughter of the
insured individual, she or he can be deemed to be the child if the insured has been
ordered by a court to contribute to the support of the applicant because the applicant
is his or her son or daughter. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A)(i)(III). Finally, if the applicant
is the son or daughter of the insured individual, she or he can be deemed to be the
child if" by evidence satisfactory to the Commissioner of Social Security" that the
insured is the mother or father of the applicant and was living with or contributing
to the support of the applicant at a specified tune. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A)(ii).
Thus, the Act imposes different tests for establishing entitlement to child's benefits,
and it imposes different responsibilities on the Agency in making determinations whether
the child can inherit from those deciding other methods of entitlement. In deciding
whether the child can inherit, the Agency can act even if a state court has not acted,
and it can predict what the relevant state court would do. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(b). The Act directs the Commissioner of Social Security to "apply
such law" as would be applied by the relevant state courts. In its current regulations,
the Agency makes it clear that it will not require the individual actually go to the
state court to have determinations made; instead, we will decide the issue by applying
the standard of proof that the state court would apply to decide the issue. Id. By contrast, the Act does not authorize directly the Agency to apply state law to
decide whether there is a state court order, e.g., declaring paternity or ordering
the payment of child support. In these later situations, the Agency is required to
give effect to valid state court orders.
2. How should Marvella's application be considered?
The Act, as discussed above, makes it clear that the primary base for entitlement
to child's benefits is the "inheritance test." The alternative bases for entitlement
depend on the claimant not being "deemed" the wage-earners child under the inheritance
test. However, the applicant is entitled to benefits as a child so long as she meets
any of the tests. Therefore, any answer that entitles the child to benefits should
suffice to support the determination.
In this case, we believe it is likely that Marvella would be found able to inherit
the wage earners intestate personal property, but we acknowledge that this may be
a hard case for the state probate courts (or for SSA deciding how the state probate
court would act). Even though inheritance may be a difficult question, however, we
believe that the Indiana court's ruling that Mr. H~ is Marvella's "natural father"
combined with the order that he pay child support and Mr. H~'s written acknowledgment
is sufficient to establish Marvella's entitlement to child's benefits on Mr. H~'s
3. Is Marvella the "daughter" of the wage earner?
Under the Act, all oft he "alternative" methods of establishing child relationship
require that the applicant be the "son or daughter" of the wage earner. The regulations
refer to this as being the "natural child" of the wage earner. See 20. C.F.R. § 404.355 (1999).  The regulations, like the statute, therefore, require evidence of a biological relationship.
In this case, the genetic test results raise the question whether Marvella should
be entitled on Mr. H~'s account.
Recent genetic tests show that Mr. H~ is not Marvella's natural father. Despite this
evidence, the record includes the Indiana Juvenile Court's determination that Mr.
H~ was the "natural father" of Marvella. We believe that the Agency must credit the
Juvenile Court's finding of paternity. There is no evidence that anyone has asked
the court to set aside the prior paternity decision based on the genetic testing,
and we have no reason to believe that, if asked, it would permit such a result.  Indiana courts apply the principle of res judicata to final judgments, which means
that once a court of competent jurisdiction decides an issue as between two parties
and issues a final judgment neither it nor other courts will disturb that judgment. See e.g., Gayheart v. Newnam Foundry Co., Inc., 271 Ind. 422, 426 (1979). Courts apply res judicata to prevent parties from repeatedly
litigating the same issue and to provide finality. That someone may now believe that
the prior finding was "wrong" does not foreclose res judicata effect of the judgment.
In this case, Mr. H~ had the opportunity to contest paternity before the Juvenile
Court in 1987. The Juvenile Court issued a final judgment adjudicating Mr. H~ to be
Marvella's natural father, and Mr. H~ did not appeal that judgment. Therefore, because
Indiana courts would give effect to the judgment, the agency must rely on it in determining
Marvella's entitlement to benefits.
This principle was announced by SSA in SSR g3-37c, "Sections 202(d) and 216(h)(2)(A)
(42 U.S.C. 402(d) and 416(h)(2)(A)) Child's Insurance Benefits—Presumption of Legitimacy
of Child Born During Wedlock—Effect of State Court's Determination of Legitimacy in
Contested Divorce Case." This ruling adopts the decision of the United States Court
of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370 (6th Cir. 1973). In Gray, a child was born during a time when the husband and wife were separated The husband
denied paternity, but the wife alleged that the husband was the father. In a subsequent
divorce proceeding, the court expressly found that the child was the issue of the
marriage. After the wage earner died, the child's mother applied on the child's behalf
for Social Security benefits. The Agency denied the claim, but its decision was reversed
by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. That court ruled that SSA is bound
by a state court decision when an issue of domestic relations is decided in a genuinely
contested proceeding before a state court of competent jurisdiction and the state
court's resolution is consistent with that of the highest court of the State. In SSR
8337c, SSA adopted Gray as the policy of the Social Security Administration.
Under SSR 83-37c, SSA is bound by the Indiana Juvenile Court's determination about
the relationship between Mr. H~ and Marvella. The juvenile court had jurisdiction
over the relationship issue; the ease was genuinely contested, as Mr. H~ had an opposing
interest; and the decision is not inconsistent with any Indiana Supreme Court authority.
Consequently, the state court's determination that Ms. H~ was the "natural father"
of Marvella is binding on SSA.
Once it is given that Marvella is, as a matter of law. the natural child of Mr. H~,
the result is fairly simple. The same state court order establishing their relationship
adjudicates Mr. H~ as the father and orders him to pay child support. In addition,
Mr. H~ acknowledged Marvella as his child in his disability application. Therefore,
Marvella meets the statutory standards to be determined to be Mr. H~'s "child" for
purposes of Social Security benefits.
For these reasons, we believe that the genetic test results would not permit the agency
to find that Marvella is not entitled to child's benefits.