In considering this claim for divorced spouse benefits, you asked several questions
related to the recognition of a marriage or a deemed marriage. Specifically, you asked
(1) whether the state of Georgia would recognize a foreign marriage in Iran that was
not recognized as valid in Iran, (2) whether this marriage could be considered a "procedural"
defect for the purpose of establishing a deemed marriage, and (3) what other evidence
would be needed to establish an 18 year marriage between the wage earner and Claimant.
For the reasons stated below, the marriage would not be valid in Georgia and it would
not meet the definition of a marriage with a procedural defect for the purposes of
establishing a deemed marriage.
According to the file, wage earner Manouchehr N. N~ (W/E) married Farokh B~ (Claimant)
in Iran on September 2, 1960. Claimant states the marriage ceremony was a religious
ceremony under the Baha'i faith. Claimant admits her marriage is not recognized as
valid or legal in Iran. During the term of their marriage, W/E and Claimant resided
in England and in New Jersey. W/E and Claimant divorced on October 1979 in Iran.
The Social Security Act (Act) provides that a person is the "divorced wife" of a wage
earner if she is "divorced from the individual, but only if she had been married to
such individual for a period of 10 years immediately before the date the divorce became
effective." § 216(d)(1) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416(d)(1). When determining whether
a claimant and the wage earner were married, we look to the law of the state where
the wage earner is domiciled when the claimant applied for benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. In this case, W/E is domiciled in Georgia.
1. Claimant's Marriage To W/E Would Not Be Recognized As Valid In Georgia.
Initially, we considered whether Claimant and W/E were validly married in Iran under
Georgia law. According to Georgia law, marriage is a civil contract and its validity
is judged by the law of the forum in which it was entered. See Fisher v. Toombs County Nursing Home, 479 S.E.2d 180, 182-83 (Ga. App. 1996). Claimant admits that her marriage to W/E
would not be recognized as valid/legal in Iran. Consequently, Georgia would not recognize
the validity of the marriage.
Although Georgia would not recognize the validity of W/E and Claimant's marriage,
Georgia would recognize a common law marriage validly entered into in another state.
According to the information provided, W/E and Claimant resided in England and New
Jersey during their marriage. The Marriage Act of 1753 abolished common law marriages
in England. Therefore, W/E and Claimant could not have established a common law marriage
during their residence in England. Additionally, New Jersey does not recognize common
law marriages as of December 1, 1939. See N.J. Rev. Stat. § 37:1-10 (2005). Claimant cannot have established a valid common
law marriage during her residence in New Jersey. Because Claimant cannot establish
a valid ceremonial or common law marriage, Georgia would not recognize her marriage
2. Claimant's Marriage To W/E Would Not Meet The Definition Of A Marriage With A Procedural
Defect To Establish A Deemed Marriage.
In order to meet the definition of a deemed marriage, Claimant must have acted in
"good faith" when she married W/E. See POMS GN 00305.055(B)(2). Good faith requires "ignorance at the time of ceremony of any legal impediment
and the claimant's belief at the time of the ceremony that the marriage was valid."
Id. The POMS further state that a legal impediment would exist if the marriage was invalid
due to a procedural defect such as having a religious ceremony in a country that requires
a civil ceremony. See POMS GN 00305.055(b)(3).
In this case, Claimant admits that her marriage was a religious ceremony considered
illegal in Iran, the country where the marriage ceremony occurred. This is not a procedural
defect. Moreover, Claimant would not be able to meet the "good faith" element required
to establish a deemed marriage. She fully admits that she knew at the time of her
marriage ceremony that her marriage would be considered illegal in Iran. Therefore,
Claimant's marriage to W/E would not meet the requirements to establish a deemed marriage.
Given the facts in this case and in light of our opinion that Claimant's marriage
would not be recognized as a valid marriage, no further evidence is needed.
Thus, Claimant is not entitled to divorced spouse benefits, because her marriage would
not be recognized as valid in Georgia, and it would not qualify as a deemed marriage.
Mary A. S~
Chief Counsel, Region VII
Assistant Regional Counsel