TN 2 (08-11)

PR 01705.006 California

A. PR 11-139 Marriage of child as terminating event; unrecorded marriage under California law Insured - Fidencio L~ Claimant - Leonard L~.

DATE: September 23, 2010

1. SYLLABUS

In May 1980, the claimant became eligible for child’s insurance benefits on his father’s account. The claimant alleges that he was married in Los Angeles County on December 19, 1980, but the minister did not record the marriage. Under agency policy, the statements of claimant and his wife regarding the existence of a ceremonial marriage in December 1980 are sufficient to presume the validity of the marriage.

Based on both the strong presumption of ceremonial marriage, and on the statements of the claimant and his wife, the agency may presume that they had a valid ceremonial marriage in December 1980, therefore claimant’s entitlement to child’s insurance benefits ended in December 1980. 

2. OPINION

QUESTIONS

You ask two questions with respect to Leonard L~’s eligibility for child's insurance benefits beginning May 1980. First, is the claimant’s unrecorded December 1980 marriage valid under California law?  Second, may the agency determine eligibility terminated in December 1980 given the absence of documentary evidence of the 1980 ceremonial marriage and 1999 legal marriage to the same person?

SHORT ANSWERS

Under California law, the December 1980 marriage would not have been legally invalid if the failure to record was due solely to the minister’s negligence in recording it, as the claimant alleges.  Additionally, the parties to this marriage are putative spouses under California law and agency policy.  Last, the statements made by the claimant and his wife regarding their December 1980 ceremonial marriage are valid evidence of the ceremonial marriage. 

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

In May 1980, the claimant became eligible for child’s insurance benefits on his father’s account.

The claimant alleges that he married Eufemia P~ in Los Angeles County on December 19, 1980, but the minister did not record the marriage. In December 1980, the claimant (born on April 12, 1959) was 21 years old, and Eufemia (born on May 4, 1961) was 19 years old. Thus, if they were married on December 19, 1980, as alleged, both had obtained the legal age of consent. See Cal. Fam. Code § 301 (“An unmarried male of the age of 18 years or older, and an unmarried female of the age of 18 years or older, and not otherwise disqualified, are capable of consenting to and consummating marriage.”); Brent W~, From the Altar to the Prom: Underage Marriages in San Diego County, 11 J. Contemp. Legal Issues 99, 100 n.4 (Feb. 1999) (explaining that, beginning in 1972, the legal age of majority for both males and females in California was 18 years old).

 The agency’s record search for that time-period confirmed that Los Angeles County has no record of the alleged December 1980 marriage. 

In August 1999, the claimant and Eufemia remarried. The agency’s search of Los Angeles County records confirmed that the County issued a marriage license to the claimant and Eufemia on August 20, 1999, and filed the license following the marriage on August 26, 1999.

On July 20, 2010, the claimant contacted the Huntington Park field office. In the report of contact, the claimant stated that he and Eufemia had three children, Catalina L~, born on March 21, 1983, Leonard, Jr., born on March 7, 1984, and Camille L~, born on June 1, 1986. Regarding his marriage, the claimant stated that he married Eufemia on December 13, 1980, at Precious Memories Chapel in Huntington Park, California.  The claimant stated that that he and Eufemia had remarried in August 1999 after they discovered that the December 1980 marriage had never been recorded. Eufemia confirmed the claimant’s allegations and stated that they had lost the souvenir marriage certificate provided by the minister at the time of the December 1980 ceremony.

Analysis

Under the Social Security Act (Act), a child, as defined in section 216(e) of the Act, is eligible for child’s insurance benefits on the account of an eligible wage earner if the child is:  (1) dependent on the wage earner; (2) not married; and (3) under age 18, under age 19 and a student, or under a disability that began before age 22. Since your question pertained only to the effect of the claimant’s purported marriage on the possible termination of his child’s insurance benefits, we will not address the other eligibility factors, such as dependency or age.

Social Security Act § 202(d)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.350 (governing eligibility for child’s insurance benefits); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) DI 10115.001 (outlining requirements for child’s insurance benefits). 

The child’s eligibility for child’s insurance benefits on the account of an eligible wage earner ceases if the child marries. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1)(D), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(D); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.352(b)(4) (governing cessation of child’s insurance benefits after the child marries); but see POMS RS 00203.035(A)(3), DI 10115.050(B) (explaining that the child’s marriage does not end entitlement to child’s insurance benefits if the marriage is to a Social Security beneficiary who is not a child beneficiary under age 18, or under age 19 and a student). Additionally, a child is considered “unmarried” if the marriage was void. POMS RS 00203.020.  However, the evidence indicates that the marriage at issue here would not have been void. The claimant and his wife were over 18 and capable of consenting to marriage, and thus would have been capable of marrying. See Cal. Fam. Code § 301 (West 2010). The conditions under which a marriage is “voidable and may be adjudged a nullity” pertain to invalid consent or lack of capability to consent. See Cal. Fam. Code § 2210 (West 2010) (setting forth the conditions under which a marriage is voidable). 

The claimant’s alleged marriage in December 1980 was valid if the defect was due solely because of the minister’s negligence in not recording the marriage.

In order to determine whether the claimant was married, the Act directs that we look the laws of the state where the insured is domiciled. Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i).  In the absence of contrary information, we have assumed that California is the insured’s and the claimant’s place of domicile.

In California, “[a] ceremonial marriage is presumed to be valid.” Cal. Evid. Code § 663. In order to validate a marriage, the marriage “shall be licensed, solemnized, and authenticated, and the authenticated marriage license shall be returned to the county recorder of the county where the marriage license was issued, as provided in this part.” Cal. Fam. Code § 306. However, “[n]oncompliance with this part by a nonparty to the marriage does not invalidate the marriage.” Cal. Fam. Code § 306.

Although Los Angeles County has no record of the claimant’s marriage, the claimant and his wife allege that the minister who conducted their December 1980 marriage ceremony failed to record the marriage.  California courts have held that such noncompliance by an individual who was not a party to the marriage, does not invalidate the marriage. See Estate of D~, 118 Cal. Rptr. 2d 143, 155 (Cal. Ct. App. 2002) (explaining that “a failure by the person solemnizing the marriage to return the certificate of registry would not invalidate the marriage”).

Even if the December 1980 marriage were invalid, the claimant and his wife would have been putative spouses.

A lawful marriage is one that complies with statutory requirements. Vryonis v. Vryonis, 248 Cal. Rptr. 807, 814 (Cal. Ct. App. 1988).  Since the claimant’s December 1980 marriage was not recorded, it did not strictly comply with statutory requirements. However, even if the failure to record rendered the marriage invalid, the claimant and his wife apparently had a good faith belief that they had entered into a valid marriage, and have putative spouse status under California law. See Cal. Fam. Code § 2251 (providing, if a court determines “that a marriage is void or voidable and the court finds that either party or both parties believed in good faith that the marriage was valid, the court shall: (1) Declare the party or parties to have the status of a putative spouse”); Estate of D~, 118 Cal. Rptr. at 155 (“Putative spouse status may be based on the reasonable expectations of the parties to an alleged marriage entered into in good faith where the marriage is void or voidable . . . [or] where the marriage is invalid for [other] reasons.”).

The POMS indicate that, in California, “where at least one of the parties to an invalid [ceremonial] marriage . . . entered into the marriage in good faith believing that it was valid, the spouse had status as a putative spouse and inheritance rights as a spouse so long as such good faith belief continued.” POMS GN 00305.085(B)(1). If, after learning of the defect, “the parties undertook within a reasonable time to legalize their marriage, then the status as a spouse continued.”  POMS GN 00305.085(B)(1),(3).  Since the claimant and his wife obtained and recorded another ceremonial marriage in August 1999, after they discovered the legal defect with their first marriage, they are putative spouses between December 1980 and August 1999.

Under agency policy, the statements of claimant and his wife regarding the existence of a ceremonial marriage in December 1980 are sufficient to presume the validity of the marriage.

As proof of ceremonial marriage, the agency prefers certified documents, such as marriage certificates or public records of the marriage. See POMS GN 00305.020 (Preferred Proof of Ceremonial Marriage). Neither the claimant nor his wife can produce certified documents or other primary evidence of the ceremony.

Where the agency does not have preferred proof of ceremonial marriage, the agency relies on secondary proof, A souvenir certificate may be acceptable as secondary proof of marriage in situations where the validity of the document is not in question and preferred evidence does not exist “because the event was not recorded.” See POMS GN 00301.050(D).  Here, the claimant and his wife assert that they lost the souvenir certificate. such as “[s]tatements from at least two persons who have knowledge that a ceremony took place.” POMS GN 00305.025(B)(2).  Such proof is acceptable if it is consistent with the statements and conduct of the parties to the marriage, the length of time the parties lived together as husband and wife, and whether children were born of the relationship. Id. Where neither primary nor secondary evidence is available, the agency still applies a “strong presumption” as to the existence of a ceremonial marriage, “especially where supporting evidence shows that the parties have lived together as husband and wife for many years, and it can be rebutted only by convincing evidence to the contrary.” POMS GN 00305.030. “The absence of a record in the place where the marriage is alleged to have occurred will not in itself defeat the presumption.” Id

In this case, supporting evidence indicates that the claimant and his wife lived together for many years and had three children between December 1980 and August 1999.  The claimant and his wife also provided consistent statements about the marriage ceremony. Since these statements are against the claimant’s interest in this matter, we have no reason to doubt the statements. See, e.g., POMS RM 03870.060 (indicating that where an individual makes a statement disclaiming earnings, a “statement against one’s own interest is of high probative value and usually need not be substantiated by additional evidence”).

Thus, based on both the strong presumption of ceremonial marriage, and on the statements of the claimant and his wife, the agency may presume that they had a valid ceremonial marriage in December 1980. The claimant’s entitlement to child’s insurance benefits ended in December 1980. 


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PR 01705.006 - California - 08/22/2011
Batch run: 08/22/2011
Rev:08/22/2011