You have asked whether the State of Oregon would recognize a marriage that took place
and was registered in the Commonwealth of New Zealand, to support a legal name change
for a number holder domiciled in Oregon. If so, can SSA change the name of the number
holder on SSA's records?
Yes, if it can be ascertained that the individuals who married in New Zealand, Polly
A. B~ and Stephen A. N~, submitted an original or certified Copy of Particulars of
Marriage and they are not first cousins, not the same sex, and age seventeen or older
(all permissible in New Zealand marriages, but not permissible in Oregon). Because
marriage is an accepted basis to change a name, SSA can change the name of a married
number holder on SSA's records..
Ms. B~ wishes to change her name on her Social Security Number record to Polly A.
N~, taking Mr. N~'s surname. As proof that they are married, Ms. B~ and Mr. N~ have
presented to SSA a Copy of Particulars of Marriage, attesting to her marriage to Mr. N~ on February 11, 2006. Both Ms. B~ and Mr. N~ are residents of Oregon.
A number holder's name may be changed on SSA's records when there is proof that a
legal name change has occurred. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.110(a); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RM 00203.210 A.1. The requested name change must be supported by an acceptable identity document.
See id. A document issued by a foreign government is acceptable as preferred proof of ceremonial
marriage. See POMS GN 00305.020 A.4. Generally, SSA looks to state law to determine the existence of a marital relationship.
See generally 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Thus, here, if the State of Oregon would recognize the marriage
in question and accept a related name change, SSA would accept that marriage as a
basis for a name change in SSA's records.
1.The New Zealand Marriage Appears Valid
You have provided us with an apparently genuine and unaltered copy of a "Copy of Particulars
of Marriage" document for Ms. B~ and Mr. N~. The Marriage Act of 1955 governs marriage
law in New Zealand and is referred to as "the principal Act." See Marriage Amendment Act 2005 (N.Z.); Marriage Act 1955 (N.Z.). Specifically, the principal
Act applies to marriages solemnized in New Zealand, whether or not either of the parties
is domiciled in New Zealand at the time of the marriage. Marriage Act 1955 (N.Z.)
§ 3(2). Solemnization means to enter marriage publicly, in front of witnesses, in
contrast to common law marriage. Black's Law Dictionary 1392 (6th ed. 1990).
New Zealand law requires that the particulars of a marriage be registered using a
prescribed form. Marriage Act 1955 (N.Z.) §§ 35, 36. The form must document the presence
of two witnesses and the presence of an officiating minister or registrar. Id. §§ 33, 36(3). A certified copy of an entry in a register book purporting to be signed
by the registrar constitutes prima facie evidence of the solemnization of the marriage
to which it relates. Id. § 51. A marriage cannot be solemnized unless a marriage license (or notice of intended
marriage) has been issued and delivered to the registrar within 3 months of the date
the license (or notice) was issued. Id. § 30. Thus, by inference, a certified copy of an entry in a register book constitutes
not only prima facie evidence of solemnization, but also prima facie evidence of a
valid, current marriage license (or notice of intent to marry).
The Copy of Particulars of Marriage Ms. B~ and Mr. N~ have submitted appears to establish
that they were married validly under New Zealand's law. The document lists Ms. B~
and Mr. N~ as bride and bridegroom; contains their signatures and the signatures of
two witnesses, Sheila N~ and Lauriston N~; and contains the signature of either a
registrar of marriage or marriage celebrant (a form of lay registrar), David B~. The
document lists the location of the marriage, Tahunanui Beach, and the date, February
The document is signed by a Registrar, who certifies that the wedding was solemnized
in his presence, and signed by two witnesses. See Marriage Act 1955 (N.Z.), §§ 33, 36(3), 51. Under New Zealand law, the document thus
would establish prima facie evidence of the solemnization of the marriage to which
it relates. Id. § 51.
2.SSA Cannot Accept the Document because it is Only a Photocopy
Unfortunately, the Copy of Particulars of Marriage we have is a photocopy. The information
on the document appears good and establishes a valid, public marriage under New Zealand
law. But POMS GN 00301.030
A.3 requires an additional signature or stamp on the physical document itself. The
document does not appear questionable, doubtful, or of unknown value, but it is a
photocopy with no additional certification on the document itself. Therefore, the
document fails the requirements of POMS GN 00301.030 A.3. Perhaps the SSA field office has a record of receiving the original document.
If not, Ms. B.~ and Mr. N.~ should submit an original to the field office. See POMS GN 00301.030. If they cannot, perhaps the New Zealand consulate in Oregon would certify the copy
with a raised stamp.
3. Oregon Law Relevant to the Copy of Particulars of Marriage Oregon does not have
a specific statute regarding recognition of marriages executed in foreign countries.
But in Oregon, a man and woman deporting themselves as husband and wife are presumed
to have entered into a lawful contract of marriage. Or. Rev. Stat. 40.135 rule 311
(1) (u). As a general rule, Oregon looks to the law of the jurisdiction certifying
the marriage to determine the marriage's validity. See Garrett v. Chapman, 449 P.2d 856, 858 (Or. 1969) (certifying a Montana marriage); see also In re Booker, 557 P.2d 248, 250 (Or. App. 1976) (recognizing common law marriages from other states).
Oregon also follows the general rule that, except where the marriage is contrary to
local law or public policy, a marriage valid where solemnized is valid everywhere.
See generally Sturgis v. Sturgis, 93 P. 696, 698 (Or. 1908). Oregon courts have considered foreign laws in determining
whether to recognize a marriage alleged to have occurred in another country. See Gorman v. Gorman, 316 P.2d 543, 544-545 (Or. 1957) (finding alleged Scottish marriage not proven);
Werden v. Thorpe, 867 P.2d 557, 560 (Or. Ct. App. 1994) (finding valid but voidable Mexican marriage).
Oregon law also grants a number of presumptions favorable to accepting the marriage
here. The courts of Oregon presume a man and woman deporting themselves as husband
and wife have entered into a valid contract of marriage. Or. Rev. Stat. § 40.135 Rule
311 (1) (u). In Oregon, a document purporting to be executed in an official capacity
by a person authorized by the laws of a foreign country to make the execution or attestation
requires no further authentication. Or. Rev. Stat. § 40.510 Rule 902 (1) (c), 40.510(3);
see also § 40.135 Rule 311 (1) (k). Thus, an original Copy of Particulars of Marriage would
be self-authenticating in Oregon, because it is signed by appropriate officials. The
authenticity could be strengthened with a certification by the New Zealand consulate,
but that is not necessary, if the number holder has presented an original, official
government document of New Zealand.
4. Conflicts between the Marriage Law of New Zealand and Oregon
Oregon does not recognize a foreign marriage if it is contrary to the law or frustrates
public policies of Oregon. See Garrett, 449 P.2d at 858 (1969); Beth A. A~, Comment, Same-sex Marriage: A Conflict-of-Laws Analysis for Oregon, 32 Willamette Law Review 619, 638-639 (Summer 1996). New Zealand accepts some marriages
that are not acceptable in Oregon. Persons sixteen years of age can marry in New Zealand,
but Oregon requires that persons to be married be at least seventeen years old. See Marriage Act 1955 (N.Z.) § 17; Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.010. New Zealand does not prohibit
marriages of first cousins. Marriage Act 1955 (N.Z.) Second Schedule. Oregon prohibits
marriages of first cousins. Or. Rev. Stat. 106.020. New Zealand does not specifically
prohibit or permit same sex marriage, as such, but does recognize same sex civil unions.
Civil Union Act 2004 § 4. Persons in a civil union may change their form of relationship
to a marriage if they are "otherwise eligible." Id. § 18(1). Nowhere in New Zealand's statutes is same sex marriage expressly forbidden.
So, same sex marriage remains an ambiguous possibility in New Zealand. By contrast,
in Oregon, same sex marriage is forbidden. See Li v. Oregon, 110 P.3d 91 (Or. 2005).
Absent any violation of Oregon law or frustration of public policy, such as would
arise in the context of a same sex marriage, Oregon would probably recognize the New
Zealand Particulars of Marriage document as proof of marriage. See Or. Rev. Stat. § 40.510 Rule 902 (1) (c), 40.510(3); see also § 40.135 Rule 311 (1) (k). Thus, here, you would need to be satisfied that Ms. B~
and Mr. N~ are of opposite sex; are age 17 or older; and are not first cousins. They
can provide this information in a form acceptable to the field office.
In an earlier opinion concerning Oregon's recognition of a foreign marriage, we advised
that the state probably would recognize a marriage in another commonwealth nation,
the Bahamas. See Memorandum from Regional Chief Counsel Seattle, to Ass't Reg. Comm. - MOS, Seattle,
Acceptance of Bahaman Marriage by Oregon for Purposes of Name Change (April 6, 2006).
The same logic should apply to a marriage in the Commonwealth of New Zealand.
5.Name Change Could Follow Marriage
Considering the apparent validity of the marriage documents and assuming further inquiry
bears out the validity of the marriage, a name change would probably be recognized
by Oregon as a result of the marriage. Ms. B~'s new name can be derived from the marriage
documents, which list the groom's last name as "N~." See POMS RM 00203.210 B.1.a. All states allow a bride to take the groom's last name. See id. As you note, POMS instructs that name changes based on foreign marriages depend on
the law of the State where the number holder, who is a U.S. resident, resides. See id. at B.1.d and RM 00203.200 H.3.d. Oregon allows either party to a marriage to retain their prior surname or resume
using their prior surname during the marriage. See Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.220.
It appears that, if SSA has received an original of the Copy of Particulars of Marriage
and we can ascertain that the number holder, Ms. B~, and Mr. N~ are not first cousins,
are at least 17 years old, and not the same sex, then the requested name change is
supported by the documents provided by Ms. B~.