TN 10 (10-16)

PR 01325.240 Micronesia

A. PR 16-177 Establishing Parent-Child Relationship – Foreign Adoption under the Laws of the State of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia

Date: August 12, 2016

1. Syllabus

In determining whether an applicant is the insured’s legally adopted child, the agency evaluates the validity of the adoption under the laws of the State or foreign country where the adoption took place. The number holder’s (NH) customary adoption of the claimants took place in the State of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Thus, we look to the State of Chuuk’s law to determine the validity of the adoption. The State of Chuuk’s statutory law provides that adoptions in accordance with local custom shall be recognized and that the Trial Division of the Chuuk State Court has jurisdiction to hear a petition for a decree confirming the adoption. The requirements for recognition of a customary adoption depend on how the particular adoption is typically effected by the custom at issue. The Court confirmed that the customary adoption of the claimants was valid under the law of the State of Chuuk. Based on the specific facts at issue here, we conclude that the NH legally adopted the claimants under the laws of the State of Chuuk in the FSM. Because the foreign adoption is valid and the claimants were dependent on the NH when they filed their applications, the claimants are entitled to child’s insurance benefits on the NH’s account.

2. Opinion

QUESTION

You asked whether the foreign adoption of M~ and N~ (Claimants) is valid for purposes of establishing the Claimants’ entitlement to child’s insurance benefits on the account of X~ (NH).

SHORT ANSWER

Yes. NH and his wife adopted Claimants in accordance with customary law in the State of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the Chuuk State Supreme Court confirmed the validity of the customary adoption. Because the foreign adoption is valid and the Claimants were dependent on the NH when they filed their applications, the Claimants are entitled to child’s insurance benefits on the NH’s account.

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

M2~ and M3~ are both biological daughters of the NH. M2~ gave birth to M~ on July XX, 2007 out of wedlock. M3~ gave birth to N~ on July XX, 2008, also out of wedlock. Both M~ and N~ are citizens of the United States, and residents of Hawaii. They are also citizens of the FSM by virtue of their natural parents.  

Pursuant to Chuukese customs and traditions, the NH and his wife assumed custody of the Claimants at birth and provided them care, support and maintenance.

On March XX, 2015, the Chuuk State Supreme Court issued an order confirming the NH’s customary adoption of the Claimants. The Court found that the NH and his wife assumed custody of the Claimants under Chuukese custom, the Claimants’ natural mothers consented to the customary adoption, no one contested or objected to the adoption, and the adoption was in the Claimants’ best interest. Accordingly, the Court granted the NH’s petition for customary adoption of Claimants.

ANALYSIS

Federal Law

Under the Social Security Act (Act), every unmarried minor child of an individual entitled to old-age or disability benefits shall be entitled to child’s insurance benefits. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350. However, to receive child’s insurance benefits, the applicant must qualify as the insured individual’s child or legally adopted child and be dependent on him or her at the time the child filed his application for child’s insurance benefits. Social Security Act §§ 202(d)(1), 216(e)(1); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350, 404.356 (“You may be eligible for benefits as the insured’s child if you were legally adopted by the insured”).

In determining whether an applicant is the insured’s legally adopted child, the agency evaluates the validity of the adoption under the laws of the State or foreign country where the adoption took place. 20 C.F.R. § 404.356; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00306.135.1

If the insured individual legally adopted the applicant before the insured became entitled to old-age or disability benefits, the agency deems the applicant dependent on him or her. 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a). However, if the insured individual adopted the applicant after he or she became entitled to old-age or disability benefits, the agency will only consider the applicant dependent if (1) the applicant was under 18 years old at the time the adoption proceedings began, and the adoption decree was issued by a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States; or (2) the applicant turned 18 years old before the adoption proceedings began, the adoption decree was issued by a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States, and the applicant was living with or receiving at least one-half of his or her support from the insured in the year immediately preceding the month in which the adoption decree was issued. 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(b); POMS GN 00306.137.C.

Validity of Claimants’ Adoption

The NH’s customary adoption of the Claimants took place in the State of Chuuk in the FSM. Thus, we look to the State of Chuuk’s law to determine the validity of the adoption. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.356 (“We apply the adoption laws of the State or foreign country where the adoption took place … to determine whether you are the insured’s legally adopted child.”).

The statutory law of the FSM and the State of Chuuk provide for judicial recognition of customary adoptions “effected in accordance with recognized custom.” 6 FSM §§ 1614, 1615 (Federated States of Micronesia 2014), available at https://perma.cc/PV25-KAQN (last visited July 22, 2016); In re Marquez, 5 FSM INTRM. 381 (1992), available at http://fsmsupremecourt.org/WebSite/fsm/decisions/vol5/5fsm381_385.htm (last visited July 22, 2016). Specifically, the State of Chuuk’s statutory law provides that adoptions in accordance with local custom shall be recognized, and that the Trial Division of the Chuuk State Court has jurisdiction to hear a petition for a decree confirming the adoption. 23 Draft Chuuk State Code §§ 1003, 1004 (2001) (unenacted draft code compiling enacted laws), available at http://fsmsupremecourt.org/WebSite/chuuk/code/title23/T23_Ch01.htm (last visited July 22, 2016). The requirements for recognition of a customary adoption depend on how the particular adoption is typically effected by the custom at issue. See generally id.

Here, the NH and his wife petitioned the Chuuk State Supreme Court to confirm their adoption of the Claimants. The Court found that the NH and his wife assumed custody of the Claimants at birth pursuant to Chuukese custom, the Claimants’ natural mothers consented to the adoption, no one contested or objected to the adoption, and the adoption was in the Claimants’ best interest.

While the Court did not describe the specific requirements of the custom at issue, the Court discussed the factors above and concluded that the NH and his wife adopted the Claimants in accordance with Chuukese custom. The Court therefore confirmed that the customary adoption was valid under the law of the State of Chuuk. Based on the specific facts at issue here, we therefore conclude that the NH legally adopted the Claimants under the laws of the State of Chuuk in the FSM.

Claimants’ Dependency on the NH

The remaining issue is whether the Claimants were dependent on the NH at the time Claimants applied for child’s insurance benefits. See Social Security Act § 216(e)(1). The agency will deem the Claimants dependent on the NH if he legally adopted them before the NH became entitled to old-age benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a). Here, the Chuuk State Supreme Court issued an order confirming the NH’s customary adoption of the Claimants on March XX, 2015, approximately two years after the NH became entitled to old-age benefits.2 However, under the State of Chuuk’s statutory law, the Court’s decree merely confirmed an otherwise valid customary adoption. 23 Draft Chuuk State Code § 1004(1) (2001) (The Court will issue a decree confirming the adoption effected in accordance with recognized custom if the validity is questioned or disputed by anyone in such a manner as to cause serious embarrassment or to affect property rights). Thus, although the Court issued the decree after the NH became entitled to benefits, the customary adoption was effected when the NH assumed custody of the Claimants at birth pursuant to Chuukese custom. See also POMS PR 01325.232 (concluding the claimant was legally adopted at the time she was placed in the insured’s custody pursuant to customary law of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), where an RMI court confirmed the customary adoption several years later). The Court decree simply confirmed this was a valid adoption under Chuuk statutory law. Based on the specific facts of Claimants’ adoption, we therefore conclude that the Claimants were dependent on the NH at the time they applied for child’s insurance benefits.

CONCLUSION

The NH’s customary adoption of the Claimants was valid under the laws of the State of Chuuk in the FSM. Because the Claimants are the NH’s legally adopted children and they were dependent on the NH at the time Claimants filed their applications, they are entitled to child’s insurance benefits on the NH’s record.


Footnotes:

[1]

. The agency does not need to determine if the domiciliary State recognizes the foreign adoption. 20 C.F.R. § 404.356; POMS GN 00306.155.C.

[2]

. The NH became entitled to old-age benefits in January 2013.


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PR 01325.240 - Micronesia - 10/17/2016
Batch run: 10/17/2016
Rev:10/17/2016