This is in response to your request for an opinion as to whether adoptions in Belize
are recognized for purposes of entitlement to social security benefit payments. At
issue are applications for survivor benefits of Jaime E. H~ and James A. S~ based
on the record of Odelia E. (H~) S~. We have concluded that Odelia legally adopted
The facts as I understand them indicate that on December 17, 1997, Odelia adopted
a child, Jaime, in Belize City, Belize. Jaime was born on November 23, 1993. Odelia
died on July 5, 1999. Her husband, James, filed for social security survivor's benefits
for Jaime on July 16, 1999. On that date, James also filed for benefits as a surviving
spouse with a child in his care, i.e., father's benefits.
The documents in the file contain a copy of the Adoption Certificate for Jaime, which
was issued on June 2, 1998. This certificate shows Odelia as the mother. The Certificate
does not list James as the father, although a marriage certificate shows that he and
Odelia were married on July 4, 1992.
In order to be entitled to survivor's benefits as the child of a number holder pursuant
to section 202(d) of the Social Security Act (Act), a child must be a child as defined
in section 216(e) of the Act. Section 216(e) defines "child" to include a child or
legally adopted child of the insured.
In determining whether a child is the legally adopted child of the insured, SSA must
apply the adoption laws of the State or foreign country where the adoption took place.
20 C.F.R. ' 404.356. As the adoption of Jamie took place in Belize, SSA must apply
the laws of Belize. At the request of the Office of Program Law, the Law Library of
Congress issued a report entitled "Adoption in Belize" (copy attached). This report
concludes that the adoption certificate in the instant case is evidence of a valid
The report of the Law Library of the Library of Congress concerning Belize law was
based on our understanding of the facts as presented to us, as evidenced by documents
in the claim folder. The report states that the adoption certificate produced in this
claim is in the form provided by section 13 of the Adoption of Children Act in accordance
with Belize law, a portion of which states:
[A] certified copy of any entry in the Adopted Children Register if purporting to
be sealed or stamped with the seal of the General Registry shall, without any further
or other proof of such entry...where the entry contains a record of the date of the
birth of the child shall be received not only as evidence of the adoption to which
it relates, but also evidence of the date of birth of the adopted child....
Bel. Rev. Laws, ch 135 (1990).
The report explains that the validity of an adoption in Belize can be questioned notwithstanding
the fact that it has been entered in the Adopted Child Register. However, the author
of the report did not find any grounds for doubting the validity of this adoption.
Thus, he found the adoption certificate stating that Jaime was adopted by Odelia to
be evidence of a valid adoption.
Additionally, we requested the opinion of the Law Library of the Library of Congress
as to whether James can be considered to be the adoptive father of Jaime (as he was
not listed on the adoption certificate as her father). However, the report was inconclusive
on this point. After discussions with Ron T~ and Taz C~ (both from your office), I
determined that James need not be Jaime's adoptive father in order to be eligible
for father's benefits on Odelia's earnings record under section 202(g) (1) of the
Act. Therefore, I did not pursue this matter.