TN 2 (06-06)
PR 02706.052 Virginia
A. PR 06-140 Validity of Jamaican Marriage Under Virginia Law, Request for Name Change by Sparkle L. A. (R~) W~, SSN ~
DATE: May 24, 2006
Virginia state law recognizes marriages of other states or countries to be valid in Virginia if they are valid in the state or country in which the marriage took place, provided that the marriage is not “repugnant to public policy,” i.e., in violation of Virginia state law or policy. In Virginia, any marriage that is prohibited by statute is void. Void marriages include those within a certain degree of affinity or consanguinity, marriages involving minors or individuals of a certain mental capacity, and individuals who enter into a marriage prior to the dissolution of a prior marriage. As long as the marriage is not repugnant to public policy or prohibited by statute, a marriage celebrated in Jamaica would be valid in Virginia.
Virginia recognizes a ceremonial marriage to be the basis of a legal name change upon the presentation of a marriage certificate. Therefore, as a Jamaican marriage is recognized in Virginia, SSA may process a name change of a married number holder when a Jamaican Marriage Register is presented. In the state of Virginia, upon marriage: (1) a wife can adopt her husband's surname; (2) a husband can adopt his wife's surname; (3) a wife and husband can adopt a surname that hyphenates both of their surnames; but (4) neither a wife nor a husband can adopt an entirely new surname. As Jamaican Marriage Registers contain biographical data (age) of the participants, the document alone may be an acceptable identity document supporting the legal name change, as stipulated by RM 00203.210. However, the document must meet the standards outlined in GN 00301.030.
On April 6, 2006, you requested a legal opinion regarding: (1) whether the Jamaican marriage between Keith O’B. W~ and the number holder, Sparkle L. A. R~, would be considered a valid marriage under the laws of Virginia; (2) whether Virginia state law would recognize the Jamaican marriage as a basis for a legal name change to Sparkle L. A. W~; and (3) whether the Jamaican Marriage Register is an acceptable document of sufficient probative value to change the number holder's name on her Social Security card to Sparkle L. A. W~.
Based upon our review of the facts in this case and our research of relevant Virginia statutes and case law, we believe that: (1) Virginia state law would recognize the Jamaican marriage as valid; (2) Virginia state law would recognize the Jamaican marriage as a basis for a legal name change; and (3) the Jamaican Marriage Register is an acceptable document of sufficient probative value allowing SSA to change the number holder's name on her Social Security card to Sparkle L. A. W~.
On March 6, 2006, the number holder filed an application to change the name on her Social Security card to Sparkle L. A. W~ . In support of her application, she submitted a copy of an Illinois driver's license issued on January 5, 2004 with the surname R~. As evidence of her marriage, she submitted a copy of a Marriage Register documenting a marriage between Keith O. W~ and Sparkle L. A. R~ in Half Moon, St. James Parish, Jamaica, on August 12, 2005. The Marriage Register lists Sparkle L. A. R~ as a twentythree year old spinster and her father as Leon R~. The number holder and Mr. W~ presently reside in Virginia.
A. Name Change Requests Based Upon a Marriage in a Foreign Country
As you noted in your request for a legal opinion, a marriage document issued by a foreign jurisdiction is not presumed evidence of a legal name change for Social Security purposes. POMS RM 00203.200H.2.d. This is because a United States state may not recognize a marriage performed in a foreign country and not all cultures and countries treat marriage as an event to legally change a name. Id.
When a United States resident files an application for a name change based on a marriage that occurred in a foreign country, whether SSA will change the applicant's legal name on his/her Social Security card depends on the laws of the state where he or she resides. POMS RM 203.210B.1.d. If the state of residence recognizes the marriage, we assume it applies its own state law for a legal name change to foreign marriages also. Id. As stated above, the number holder resides in Virginia. Thus, in accordance with your request for a legal opinion, it is necessary to determine whether Virginia state law would recognize as valid the Jamaican marriage between the number holder and Keith O’B. W~.
B. Virginia State Law Would Consider the Jamaican Marriage Valid
Virginia courts recognize that "[a] marriage that is valid under the law of the state or country where it is celebrated is valid in Virginia, unless it is repugnant to public policy." Farah v. Farah, 429 S.E. 2d 626, 629 (Va. Ct. App. 1993) (citation omitted). As previously stated, the number holder submitted a Marriage Register indicating that she married Mr. W~ in Jamaica. Accordingly, Virginia will recognize the marriage between the number holder and Mr. W~ as valid if it was valid in Jamaica, the country where it was celebrated.
Jamaican law authorizes the issuance of special licenses for the marriages of non-residents. See Paragraph 22 of the Jamaican Marriage Act. www.moj.gov.jm. After the issuance of such a license, marriage may be solemnized between the parties provided that: (a) the marriage is solemnized in the presence of a Marriage Officer and two witnesses between the hours of six a.m. and eight p.m.; (b) the license is first delivered to the Marriage Officer by or before whom the marriage is solemnized; (c) in some part of the ceremony each of the parties declare that there is no legal impediment to the marriage of one another; and (d) there is no lawful impediment to the marriage of the parties. Paragraph 27 of the Jamaican Marriage Act. Immediately after the ceremony, the Marriage Officer before whom it is solemnized shall enter the marriage in a Marriage Register Book to be kept by him and in duplicate for filing with the General Register Office. Paragraphs 31-32, 39 of the Jamaican Marriage Act.
In this case, the copy of Marriage Register submitted by the number holder serves as evidence of a valid marriage in Jamaica because the parties had to first perform certain acts before the Marriage Officer entered the marriage in the Marriage Register. Accordingly, the number holder's marriage to Keith O’B. W~ would be considered valid under Virginia law because it was valid under Jamaican law.
We also have no reason to believe that this marriage would be repugnant to Virginia public policy. In Virginia, any marriage that is prohibited by statute is void. Va. Code Ann. § 20-45.1 (2006). Void marriages include those within a certain degree of affinity or consanguinity, marriages involving minors or individuals of a certain mental capacity, and individuals who enter into a marriage prior to the dissolution of a previous marriage. Va. Code. Ann. §§ 20-38.1, 2045.1. Based upon the information which was provided to us, we have no evidence which suggests that the marriage between the number holder and Mr. W~ would be considered void. Accordingly, it is our opinion that Virginia would consider the Jamaican marriage between Mr. W~ and the number holder to be valid.
C. The Marriage Register is an Acceptable Document of Sufficient Probative
Value to Change the Number Holder's Name on Her Social Security Card
Virginia law recognizes a ceremonial marriage as a basis for a legal name change upon presentation of a marriage certificate. See In re S~, 220 S.E.2d 245, 246 (Va. 1975) (stating that a woman may assume her husband's surname). Virginia does not have a statute or published regulation that expressly articulates what surname can result from a marriage. However, the Commissioner's Office of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles advised our office that upon marriage: (1) a wife can adopt her husband's surname; (2) a husband can adopt his wife's surname; (3) a wife and husband can adopt a surname that hyphenates both of their surnames; but (4) neither a wife or husband can adopt an entirely new surname.
Beginning December 2005, an applicant must meet specific evidentiary requirements to change the name on his/her Social Security card. POMS RM 00203.001A. In name change situations, the applicant must submit the name change document (the document that shows the name change event). Id. SSA also requires an applicant to submit evidence of identity showing his/her legal name when applying for a replacement Social Security card, especially where the applicant seeks a name change. POMS RM 203.200B.5. For a marriage document or marriage record to suffice as an acceptable identity document, it must show, in addition to the new name, biographical information that can be compared with the data on the application for a name change and/or physical information that can be compared with the applicant. POMS RM 00203.200G.2; POMS RM 00203.210B.
In this case, we believe the Marriage Register alone is an acceptable identity document supporting the legal name change on the number holder's Social Security card. The Marriage Register contains biographical information, i.e., the number holder's age, and her legal name, which can be compared with the data on her name change application. While the Marriage Register does not include the "new name,” we note that SSA issued guidance on January 13, 2006, stating that SSA “can accept a marriage document as a legal name change document if the new name can be derived from the marriage document” so long as the document contains the required biographical information. See National Question & Answer, Tracking number 06-007 (electronically accessible via link from POMS RM 00203.210). Here, the requested name change to “Sparkle L. A. W~” can be derived easily from the names of Sparkle L. A. R~ and Keith O’B. W~. In addition, the Marriage Register provides the number holder's age and, therefore, contains the required biographical information. Accordingly, we believe that the Jamaican Marriage Register is sufficient evidence of the number holder's name change.
For the reasons stated above, we believe that Sparkle L. A. R~'s marriage to Mr. W~ in Jamaica would be considered valid in Virginia and should be considered a basis for a legal name change. We also believe that the Jamaican Marriage Register is an acceptable document of sufficient probative value which would allow SSA to change the number holder's name on her Social Security card to Sparkle L. A. W~.
Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel