PR 02706.054 West Virginia
A. PR 06-128 Whether a Marriage in Jamaica is Recognized Under the Law of West Virginia and Whether that Marriage can be the basis for a legal name change. Number Holder: Carla D.~ Y~ G~ SSN: ~ Married in Montego Bay, St. James Parish, Jamaica on March 15, 2006
DATE: May 8, 2006
Under West Virginia law, the validity of a marriage (including a foreign marriage) is dependent on whether the marriage would be considered valid under the laws of the jurisdiction where the marriage occurred. Therefore, whether a marriage that took place in the country of Jamaica is valid in the state of West Virginia depends on whether the marriage is valid under Jamaican law.
The Jamaican Certified Copy of Marriage Register submitted serves as evidence of a valid marriage in Jamaica and considered a basis for a legal name change in West Virginia. Additionally, the Certified Copy of Marriage Register contains sufficient biographical data (age) as well as sufficient information about old and new names of the number holder, thus meeting the necessary evidentiary requirements for a name change on the SSN.
On April 26, 2006, you asked for an opinion as to whether a marriage that was conducted in Jamaica would be recognized under the law of West Virginia and whether that marriage could be the basis for a legal name change.
Based on our review of the facts of this case and our research of the relevant West Virginia and Jamaica statutes and case law, we have determined that the number holder's Jamaican marriage would be recognized under the law of West Virginia and could be the basis for a legal name change.
In your request, you indicated that the number holder, Carla D.~ Y~, was married to Oliver D.~ G~ in Montego Bay, St. James Parish, Jamaica on March 15, 2006. The number holder and Mr. G~ are both legal residents of Morgantown, West Virginia. The number holder filed an application for a name change to Carla D. G~ on her social security number (NUMI) on April 12, 2006. With this application she submitted a West Virginia driver's license with the surname of Y~. As evidence of her new name, the number holder submitted her Jamaican marriage registration.
A. Name Change Request Based on 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 because of foreign marriages also. Id. As stated earlier, the number holder resides in West Virginia. Thus, it is necessary to determine whether West Virginia law would recognize as valid the Jamaican marriage between the number holder and Daniel G~.
B. West Virginia State Law Would Consider the Jamaican Marriage Valid.
West Virginia's statutes and case law do not directly address whether a marriage performed in another country would be recognized as legal in West Virginia. However, as a general principle, West Virginia case law recognizes that the validity of a marriage must be tested by the laws of the jurisdiction in which it was contracted or celebrated. Meade v. State Compensation Com'r, 125 S.E.2d 771, 777 (W.Va. 1962); State v. Austin, 234 S.E.2d 657, 663 (W.Va. 1977). Accordingly, the validity of the marriage between the number holder and Daniel G~ is dependent on whether their marriage would be considered valid under Jamaican law.
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 Certified 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 Daniel G~ in Jamaica would be considered to be valid under West Virginia law as it was valid under Jamaican law.
C. The Jamaican Marriage Register is an Acceptable Document of Sufficient Probative Value to Change the Number Holder's Name on Her Social Security Card.
West Virginia recognizes ceremonial marriages as a basis for a legal name change and a marriage certificate would be recognized as proof that a legal name change has occurred. The County Clerk's Office of Monongalia County advised our office by telephone that a foreign marriage would be considered a basis for a legal name change in West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles, requires that an applicant for a driver's license or an identification card correct his or her name with the Social Security Administration before a driver's license or identification card will be issued in the desired name. See www.wvdot.com.
Beginning in 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. 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 0203.200G.2; POMS RM 00203.210B.
In this case, we believe that the Jamaican 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 (age) in addition to the number holder's legal name which can be compared with the data on her application for a name change. 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). Inasmuch as the requested name change to "Carla D. G~" can be easily derived from the names of Carla D.~ Y~ and Oliver D.~ G~, and the document contains biographical information in the form of the number holder's age, we believe that the marriage certificate is sufficient evidence for the number holder's name change.
For the reasons stated above, it is our opinion that Carla D.~ Y~ marriage in Jamaica would be considered valid in West Virginia and should be considered a basis for a legal name change. It is our further opinion that the Jamaican Marriage Register is an acceptable document of sufficient probative value allowing SSA to change Ms. Y~ name on her Social Security Card to Carla D. G~.
Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel
B. PR 06-085 Whether a marriage in the Dominican Republic can be the basis for a legal-name change for a resident of West Virginia. Number holder: Lindsey M.~ S~ SSN: ~ Married in Higuey, Dominican Republic on June 15, 2005
DATE: March 6, 2006
West Virginia law recognizes marriages in other states or countries as if they had been solemnized in West Virginia, as long as the marriage is not in violation of West Virginia Code 48-3-103, i.e., married outside of West Virginia in order to evade West Virginia state law. Thus, West Virginia recognizes foreign marriages as long as they are not in violation of state law, which includes: either party having a spouse from a prior marriage not terminated by divorce, annulment or death; parties having a relationship of consanguinity or blood; either party is insane, incapable or under the age of consent; or same sex marriages.
West Virginia recognizes ceremonial marriages as the basis of a legal name change and a marriage certificate as proof that the legal name change event occurred. Therefore, a marriage certificate from the Dominican Republic is acceptable evidence of a legal name change; however, the number holder is required to provide identity documents as stipulated in RM 00203.210.
On February 3, 2006, you asked us to advise you whether a marriage that was conducted in the Dominican Republic could be the basis for a legal-name change for a resident of West Virginia.
Based on our review of the facts of this case and our research of the relevant West Virginia statutes and case law, we have determined that the Dominican Republic marriage can be the basis for a legal-name change in West Virginia.
In your request, you indicated that the number holder, Lindsey M.~ S~, was married in Higuey, Dominican Republic, on June 15, 2005. Ms. S~ date of birth is November 3, 1982, and her spouse, James R.~ E~, has a date of birth of April 19, 1973. Therefore, Ms. S~ was twenty-two years of age at the time of the marriage and her spouse was thirty-two years of age. Ms. S~ contacted the Social Security Administration and requested that she be allowed to change her legal-name to "Lindsey M.~ E~" based on this marriage.
West Virginia recognizes ceremonial marriages as a basis for a legal-name change and a marriage certificate would be recognized as proof that a legal-name change has occurred. The Clerk of the County which issues the marriage license must record the marriage. W. Va. Code § 48-2-203 (2005). The State of West Virginia does not have a statute that expressly articulates what surname can result from a marriage, although West Virginia Code of State Rule § 91-4-6.1c (2005) does provide the variations of a person's name that can be listed on a state driver's license or identification card.
West Virginia's statutes and case law do not directly address whether a marriage in another country would be considered a basis for a legal-name change. However, West Virginia does have a statute that addresses the consequences when an individual marries out of state to evade the law. It can be inferred, by reading this statute, that a marriage in a foreign country would be considered a valid marriage and, therefore, can be a basis for a legal-name change.
W. Va. Code § 48-2-602 provides that if a resident of West Virginia marries in another state or country, the marriage is governed by the same law, in all respects, as if it had been solemnized in West Virginia if, at the time of the marriage: the marriage would have been in violation of W. Va. Code § 48 3 103 if performed in West Virginia; the person intended to evade the law of West Virginia; and the person intended to return and reside in West Virginia. West Virginia case law has explained that this statute is nothing more than a statutory extension of the common-law rule that a state is not required to recognize a marriage performed in another state which is repugnant to the former state's statutes or public policy. See State v. Austin, 234 S.E.2d 657 (W.Va. 1977).
W. Va. Code § 8-3-103 addresses marriages that are considered voidable and states that the marriages are void from the time that they are so declared by a judgment order of nullity. Some examples of voidable marriages include marriages that are prohibited by law on account of either of the parties having a wife or husband of a prior marriage, when the prior marriage has not been terminated by divorce, annulment or death; marriages that are prohibited by law on account of consanguinity or affinity between the parties; and marriages solemnized when either of the parties was an insane person, was incapable, because of natural or incurable impotency of the body, of entering into the marriage state, or was under the age of consent. It must be emphasized, however, that a foreign marriage that violates West Virginia law, even if the person intended to evade such law, is only "voidable" and is not considered "void" until after a judgment order of nullity is issued. Id. In other words, even if a foreign marriage could be considered a voidable marriage under the laws of West Virginia, that marriage can still be considered a basis for a legal-name change, absent any evidence that the marriage had been voided by a judgment order.
Further support for the inference that West Virginia would accept a foreign marriage as a basis for a legal-name change is found in the West Virginia divorce statute, which provides jurisdiction for a divorce, even if the marriage was conducted in another state or in a foreign country. Specifically, W. Va. Code § 48-5-105 provides that an individual can maintain a divorce action in West Virginia, even if they were not married in West Virginia, if one of the parties is a bona fide resident of West Virginia and the residency has continued uninterrupted through the one-year period immediately preceding the filing of the divorce action. Again, the inference from this statute is that West Virginia will recognize a foreign marriage as a valid marriage and, therefore, this marriage can be the basis for a legal-name change.
W. Va. Code § 48-2-204 provides that individuals who marry in a state other than West Virginia "may" register their marriage with the county clerk in the West Virginia county in which one of the parties resides. However, this statute only addresses a marriage conducted in other states and does not specifically address a marriage in another country. Furthermore, such registration is not a requirement and, therefore, the Social Security Administration should not require an individual to register their foreign marriage with a county clerk in West Virginia. The County Clerk's Office of Kanawha County advised our office by telephone that they did not even register marriages from foreign countries. The County Clerk's Office of Putnam County advised our office by telephone that they would accept registration of a foreign marriage, but the registration would go into the "miscellaneous registration book" and would not be listed in the "marriage registration book" because the marriage was conducted in a foreign country. They also emphasized that it was not a requirement to register a marriage from a foreign country and stated that a foreign marriage would be considered a basis for a legal-name change.
In addition, W. Va. Code § 48-2-603 provides that West Virginia will not give effect to a same sex marriage conducted in another country or state, and, therefore, a same sex marriage cannot be the basis for a legal-name change.
Finally, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles, requires that an applicant for a driver's license or identification card correct his or her name with the Social Security Administration before a driver's license or identification card will be issued in the desired name. The Division of Motor Vehicles also requires a name change to be substantiated with a birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order. See www.wvdot.com; W. Va. Code R. § 91-4-9 (2005). The Division of Motor Vehicles advised our office by telephone that they would accept a "certified" Dominican Republic marriage certificate to substantiate a name change. The Division of Motor Vehicles further explained that a marriage certificate that is prepared in a foreign language would have to be translated into English and this translation is then "certified" by a notary.
For the reasons stated above, it is our opinion that based on the evidence provided to our office, Lindsey M.~ S~' marriage in the Dominican Republic should be considered a basis for a legal-name change. In this case, there does not even appear to be an issue as to whether this is a "voidable" marriage, as both Lindsey S~ and her spouse were of the legal age of consent to marry in West Virginia and the Dominican Republic and there is nothing in the evidence presented to this office that shows either party was previously married and had failed to terminate the prior marriage. Furthermore, the marriage does not involve a same sex marriage.
Ms. S~, however, should be required to provide the identity documents required in RM 00203.210 to effectuate the legal-name change.
Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel