TN 13 (08-10)
PR 01805.001 Alabama
A. PR 10-140 Effect of Court Order Purporting to Terminate Number Holder's Parental Rights on Child Claimant's Eligibility for Child's Insurance Benefits on Number Holder's Earnings Record – Alabama
DATE: August 16, 2010
The Alabama circuit court order did not sever the parent-child relationship between the number holder and child claimant or preclude the child claimant's right to inherit from the number holder. The Alabama law presumes a man to be the natural father of a child if he and the child's mother are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage. Under Alabama Law, a child that is "the issue of the decedent" may inherit from the decedent through intestacy. The evidence that was presented was not clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption that NH is Claimant's father and, therefore, Claimant is NH's child for the purposes of Alabama intestacy law and child's insurance benefits under the Act.
You asked whether an Alabama circuit court order purporting to terminate the number holder's parental rights terminated the parent-child relationship and the child claimant's inheritance rights under Alabama or Federal law for the purposes of determining the child claimant's eligibility for child's insurance benefits on the number holder's earnings record.
The Alabama circuit court order did not sever the parent-child relationship between the number holder and child claimant or preclude the child claimant's right to inherit from the number holder. Moreover, the evidence presented also does not provide clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption that the number holder is the father of the child claimant. Therefore, absent evidence to the contrary, the child claimant is the number holder's child for the purposes of Alabama intestacy law and child's insurance benefits.
Based on the information provided, we understand the facts to be as follows. Terrance G~, the number holder (NH), and Tammy W~ (Claimant's mother), were married on November 30, 1995. During their marriage, Alexis P. G~ (Claimant) was born on March 16, 2000. Claimant was born through artificial insemination, and NH is not Claimant's biological father.
NH and Claimant's mother divorced on October 15, 2001, by order of the Circuit Court of Dekalb County, Alabama. In its order, the circuit court purported to terminate NH's parental rights and change the last name of Claimant and her mother from G~ to W~. NH died on November 20, 2009. NH's death certificate indicates he was a resident of Alabama
After NH's death, Claimant's mother applied on Claimant's behalf for child's insurance benefits on NH's earnings record. Faith G~, NH's widow, challenged the application, arguing Claimant could not be awarded child's insurance benefits on NH's earnings record based on the circuit court's order purporting to terminate NH's parental rights. NH's widow argues only she and another child, allegedly belonging to NH, are entitled to any benefits payable on NH's earnings record.
The evidence presented does not include documentation that NH consented to the artificial insemination of Claimant’s mother, his wife at the time of the procedure. The evidence also does not establish that NH refused to consent or that he and Claimant's mother did not openly hold out Claimant as their own when they were married. Claimant's birth certificate lists NH as her father.
To qualify for child's insurance benefits on the earnings record of an insured individual who has died, a claimant must be that individual's "child." See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1) (2010). "Child" includes the natural child, adopted child, or stepchild of an insured individual.See Act § 216(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.354. A claimant can qualify as the insured individual's natural child if the claimant could inherit from the insured individual as his or her child. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b). To determine if a claimant could inherit from the insured individual the Social Security Administration (SSA) applies the intestacy laws of the state where the insured had his permanent home when he died. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b)(1). Because NH was domiciled in Alabama when he died, we look to Alabama intestacy law to determine whether Claimant could inherit from NH as NH's child.
Alabama law presumes a man to be the natural father of a child if he and the child's mother are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage. See Ala. Code § 26-17-204(a)(1) (2010). Further, under Alabama Law, a child that is "the issue of the decedent" may inherit from the decedent through intestacy. Id. at § 43-8-42. Here, the evidence establishes that NH was married to Claimant's mother at the time of Claimant's birth in 2000. Because Claimant was born in wedlock, the parent-child relationship is presumed under Alabama law.
The presumption of a husband's paternity is "one of the strongest and most persuasive known to the law." Leonard v. Leonard, 360 So. 2d 710, 713 (Ala. 1978). One can rebut this presumption only by clear and convincing evidence. See Ala. Code §§ 26-17-207(b), 26-17-607(b). Proof by clear and convincing evidence requires a level of proof greater than a preponderance of evidence or the substantial weight of the evidence, but less than beyond a reasonable doubt. See Ex parte C.V., 810 So. 2d 700, 721 (Ala. 2001). Clear and convincing evidence is "that evidence which convinces the trier of fact that a proposition is 'highly probable,' as distinguished from 'more probable than not.'" Jackson v. Apfel, 105 F. Supp. 2d 1220, 1221 (N.D. Ala. 2000). The Jackson court further noted that clear and convincing proof is not necessarily undisputed proof. See 105 F. Supp. 2d at 1221. Instead, evidence meets that standard when the court is "[c]learly convinced of the affirmative of the proposition to be proved. This does not mean that there may not be contrary evidence." Id. at 1221. According to the Jackson court, "'[c]onvincing' evidence by definition requires a weighing of the evidence." Id. at 1222. Generally, SSA will look for clear and convincing evidence that the husband was sterile, did not have access to the wife, or other evidence that would have made sexual relations between the husband and wife impossible at the time of conception. See Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00306.021.
The evidence presented does not provide clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption that NH is Claimant's father. In fact, Claimant's birth certificate identifies NH as Claimant's father. NH's widow also does not dispute that NH was Claimant's father, and states only that NH and Claimant have not had a father-daughter relationship, citing the fact that Claimant is 10 years old and has "not stepped foot in [NH's] home in 9 years." In addition, the testimony from Claimant's mother that NH is not Claimant's biological father and that Claimant was born through artificial insemination alone is insufficient to rebut the presumption, absent actual evidence of NH's sterility, lack of access, or other evidence showing that sexual relations with Claimant's mother would have been impossible. Therefore, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the child claimant is the number holder's child for the purposes of Alabama intestacy law and child's insurance benefits.
Although Alabama law presumes Claimant to be the NH’s child, the Dekalb County Circuit Court purported to terminate NH's parental rights in October 2001. However, the court order is not due deference in accordance with Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37c. Through this SSR, SSA adopted as national policy the rationale from Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370 (6th Cir. 1973). In Gray, the Sixth Circuit held the Commissioner is not free to ignore a state court determination on a domestic relations issue when the state court had jurisdiction over the issue, the issue was genuinely contested by parties with opposing interests, and the decision was consistent with the law set forth by the highest court in the state. In this case, SSR 83-37c does not require deference to the Dekalb County court order, because the evidence presented shows the issue was not genuinely contested by the parties and the decision is not consistent with the highest court in the state of Alabama. In fact, the Dekalb County Circuit Court had no jurisdiction to terminate NH's parental rights. The state's juvenile court, not the county circuit court, has "exclusive original jurisdiction" over proceedings for termination of parental rights. Ala. Code § 12-15-114(c)(2); see also Campton v. Miller, 19 So. 3d 245, 250 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009) ("A circuit court has no subject-matter jurisdiction to terminate the parental rights of a parent incidental to a divorce judgment, even if the parties agree"). Accordingly, the Dekalb County Circuit Court's order did not sever Claimant's rights as NH's child, including the right to inherit from NH as his child.
Moreover, even if the circuit court had jurisdiction to terminate NH's parental rights, the circuit court's order did not terminate Claimant's right to inherit from NH. Under Alabama Law, for the purposes of proceedings regarding the termination of parental rights, the "termination of parental rights" is defined as the "severance of all rights of a parent to a child." Ala. Code § 12-15-301(14). In Ex Parte M.D.C., --- So.3d ---, 2009 WL 3152233 (Ala. 2009), the Alabama Supreme Court stated this definition "clarifies the legislative intent that a judgment terminating parental rights severs the rights of the parent to the child but does not sever the rights of the child to the parent, which includes the right to support." Id. at *3 n.3. Although the Court in M.D.C. did not specifically address the child's right to inherit in its main opinion, the opinion relied on authority that distinguished parental rights from the child's right to inherit, see id. at *8, and the dissenting opinion suggests that the child's right to inherit would not be affected by the termination of parental rights. See id. at *16, *23, *24. Accordingly, the Alabama circuit court order did not sever the parent-child relationship between NH and Claimant or preclude Claimant's right to inherit from NH.
We also note that Alabama recognizes an independent basis for establishing a husband's paternity of his wife's child born through assisted reproduction. "A married couple who, under the supervision of a licensed physician, engage in assisted reproduction through the use of donated eggs, sperm, or both, will be treated at law as if they are the sole natural and legal parents of a child conceived through thereby." Ala. Code § 26-17-702. If a husband consents to assisted reproduction by his wife as provided in Ala. Code § 26-17-604, he is the father of the resulting child. Ala. Code § 26-17-703; see also Ala. Code § 26-17-704(a) (consent by a married woman to assisted reproduction must be in a record signed by the woman and her husband and maintained by the assisting licensed physician). However, the failure of the husband to sign the required consent form "does not preclude a finding that the husband is the father of the child born to his wife if the wife and husband openly held out the child as their own." Ala. Code § 26-17-704(b). Moreover, the husband may challenge his paternity of the child born through assisted reproduction in the same manner as a presumed father, i.e., through clear and convincing evidence. See Ala. Code §§ 26-17-607(b), 26-17-705. Here, the evidence presented does not include documentation that NH gave express consent with respect to his then-wife's artificial insemination. On the other hand, the evidence also does not establish through clear and convincing proof that NH refused consent or that he and Claimant's mother did not openly hold out Claimant as their own when they were married. Although Alabama law is unclear as to how the two avenues to establish paternity interact with each other, this is not a case where a child was born through assisted reproduction with clear and convincing proof that the husband had no access and did not consent to the assisted reproduction. Therefore, this opinion does not address this issue.
We believe the evidence presented does not provide clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption that NH is Claimant's father and, therefore, Claimant is NH's child for the purposes of Alabama intestacy law and child's insurance benefits under the Act. Further, the Dekalb County Circuit Court order purporting to terminate NH's p