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?
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.