Your memorandum asked for an opinion as to whether underage marriages in the Philippines
are valid, void or voidable.
The facts as presented to us, indicate that a ceremonial marriage was performed by
a United States Army chaplain on July 14, 1933, in the Philippines. The bride, Elena
M~, now claiming social security benefits as a surviving divorced spouse, alleged,
at the time, that she was 18 years 2 months of age. She gave her date of birth as
May 1915. Her date of birth has been established as September 16, 1915; therefore,
she was only 17 years 10 months of age when married. The husband, John M~, obtained
a divorce in Japan on February 18, 1959. He died September 21, 1971. The claimant
either does not know or does not acknowledge that there was a divorce.
The Library of Congress has provided us with a translation of the pertinent provisions
of the law of the Philippines.
The basic law governing marriage in the Philippines on July 14, 1933, was the Marriage
Law, Act. No. 3613 of December 4, 1929, which went into effect on June 4, 1930. Under
the provisions of this Act, the essential requirements of a valid marriage were capacity
to marry, consent, and formalities in the celebration. Under capacity to marry, the
age of consent for marriage is set out in Section 2 which provides:
"Any male of the age of sixteen years or upwards, and any female of the age of fourteen
years or upwards, not included in any of the exceptions mentioned in sections twenty-eight
and twenty-nine of this Act, may contract marriage. [Sections twenty-eight and twenty-nine
cover incestuous marriages and illegal marriages respectively.]"
APR-22-1999 11:51 SSA-MOS RSI-SSI CHI
However, section 9, provides:
"In case the contracting parties or either of them, being single, are less than twenty
years of age as regards the male and less than eighteen years as regards the female,
they shall in addition to the requirements of the preceding sections, exhibit to the
municipal secretary or to the clerk of the Municipal Court of the City of Manila as
the case may be, the consent to their marriage of their father, mother, or guardian,
or person having legal charge of them, in the order mentioned."
"However, if the male and the female are sixteen and fourteen years, respectively
but below twenty and eighteen years respectively, the marriage even without parental
consent is valid but the contracting parties are liable for violation of the marriage
law." (Gamboa, An Introduction to Philippine Law III (4th ed. 1939)).
Thus, the marriage of Elena and John M~ on July 14, 1933 appears to have been valid
in the Philippines at the time it was contracted, but Elena was in violation of the
marriage laws by marrying at less than 18 years of age and without the consent of
her parents. The effect of such violation is unclear. However, it does not appear
to invalidate the marriage.
You also ask whether Elena meets the requirements for divorced widow (sic, surviving
divorced wife's) benefits. The term "surviving divorce wife" is defined in section
216(d)[2) of the Social Security Act (the Act).
The requirements for surviving divorced widows benefits are found in 20 C.F.R. 404.336.
This office does not adjudicate claims. However, the claimant herein appears to meet
the requirements for surviving divorced wife's benefits. She was invalidly married
to the insured wage earner under the laws of the Philippines in effect at the time
of the marriage. The marriage lasted at least 10 years - from July ]4, 1933 to February
18, 1959. She is 65 years old; her date of birth being established by SSA as September
16, 1915. There is no evidence in file of her being entitled to an old-age benefit
which is equal to or larger than the insured individual's primary insurance amount.
Additionally, there is no evidence that she is married.