On March 14, 2006, you requested a legal opinion regarding: (1) Whether Maryland state
law would recognize as valid the Jamaican marriage between Sara Therese Louise S~
and Thomas Stephen P~; (2) whether Maryland state law would recognize the Jamaican
marriage as a basis for a legal name change to Sara Terese P~; and (3) whether the
Jamaican Marriage Register is an acceptable document of sufficient probative value
to change Ms. S~ name on her Social Security card to Sara Terese P~.
Based on our review of the facts of this case and our research of relevant Maryland
statutes and case law, we believe that: (1) Maryland state law would recognize the
Jamaican marriage as valid; (2) Maryland 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 Ms. S~ name on her Social
Security card to Sara Terese P~.
On February 23, 2006, Sara Terese Louise S~ filed an application to change her name
on her Social Security card to Sara Terese P~. In support of her application, Ms.
S~ submitted (1) a Untied States passport in the name of Sara Terese Louise S~ (including
a photograph of a female individual, date of birth, and place of birth within the
United States); (2) a Jamaican Marriage Register indicating that a marriage was solemnized
between Sara Therese Louise S~ (23 years old) and Thomas Stephen P~ (23 years old)
on July 16, 2004 by a Marriage Officer under the authority of a minister's licence;
and (3) a Maryland driver's license issued on January 12, 2005 in the name of Sara
Terese P~ (including a photograph of a female individual, date of birth, and physical
characteristics of height and weight). Ms. S~ and Mr. P~ currently reside in Maryland
and have been residents of that state since 1999. You advised us that Ms. S~ most
recent application for a Social Security number was filed on July 8, 1998 in the name
of Sara Therese S~.
A. Name Change Request Based on a Marriage in a Foreign Country
As you pointed out 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. RM 00203.200H.2.d. This is because a United States state may not recognize a marriage performed in a
foreign county 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 county, 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.
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 marriage to foreign marriages
also. Id. As stated earlier, Ms. S~ resides in Maryland. Thus, in accordance with your request
for a legal opinion, it is necessary to determine whether Maryland state law would
recognize as valid the Jamaican marriage between Ms. S~ and Mr. P~.
B. Maryland State Law Would Consider the Jamaican Marriage Valid
Maryland courts recognize a marriage as valid if it was valid where contracted or
solemnized and does not violate Maryland public policy. See Henderson v. Henderson, 87 A.2d 403, 408 (Md. 1952) (citations omitted); Blaw-Knox Construction Equipment Co. v. Morris, 596 A.2d 679, 685-86 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1991) (citations omitted). As previously
stated, Ms. S~ submitted a Jamaican Marriage Register indicating that she married
Mr. P~ in Jamaica. Accordingly, Maryland will recognize the marriage between Ms. S~
and Mr. P~ as valid if it was valid in Jamaica, the jurisdiction where it was solemnized.
The Jamaican Marriage Act states that a marriage may be solemnized under the authority
of a (1) Civil Registrar's certificate or Civil Registrars' certificates; (2) Marriage
Officer's certificate or Marriage Officers' certificates; (3) licence from a Minister;
(4) licence from a Justice, the Clerk of a Resident Magistrate's Court, or any person
appointed for the purpose by the Minister; or (5) without such authority as in the
case involving a person who is in articulo mortis (at the point of death). See Marriage Act at 16; see also id. at 21 (explaining that a minister may grant a licence for marriage to persons intending
to solemnize the marriage upon proof to the minister's satisfaction that no impediment
to marriage exists).
Within three months of the issuance of the required certificate or license, a marriage
may be solemnized between the parties if: (1) 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.;
(2) the license is first delivered to the Marriage Officer by or before whom the marriage
is to be solemnized; (3) each party to the marriage in the presence of the Marriage
Officer and witnesses declares that he/she knows of no lawful impediment to the marriage
of one another; (4) each party to the marriage declares to each other to take the
other party to be his/her lawful wife/husband; (5) no lawful impediment to the marriage
exists; and (6) the parties have reached age eighteen or have obtained the necessary
consent. Id. at 24, 26-27. Immediately after the solemnization, the Marriage Officer, before whom
the marriage was solemnized, is required to enter the marriage in a Marriage Register
Book to be kept by him and in duplicate for filing with the Registrar-General in the
General Register Office. Id. at 30-32, 39. The Marriage Register Book and the duplicate must be signed by the Marriage
Officer, parties married, and the two witnesses to the marriage. Id. at 31. The Marriage Officer is required to deliver the duplicate register to the
Registrar General and to provide a certified copy of the register to one of the parties
to the marriage. Id. 32. Finally, the Marriage Act provides that the General Register Office is responsible
for keeping registers of all marriages solemnized in Jamaica and shall provide a seal
or stamp with all certified copies of documents issued out of its office. Id. at 39-40. The General Register Office must provide to any person (after payment of
the appointed fee) a copy of any Marriage Register in the General Register Office
and must bear the seal and stamp of the Registrar General Office. Id. at 47.
In this case, it appears that Ms. S~ marriage to Mr. P~ is valid under the Jamaican
Marriage Act and would therefore be recognized by Maryland as a valid marriage. Ms.
S~ submitted a Marriage Register issued by the Registrar General's Department which
states it is a "certification of [a] vital record" and appears to bear both the seal
and stamp of the Registrar General Office. As detailed above, such a document could
only be issued if a Marriage Officer in Jamaica entered the marriage between Ms. S~
and Mr. P~ in the Marriage Register Book and delivered the duplicate register to the
Registrar-General. Furthermore, the Marriage Register indicates that Ms. S~ obtained
a minister's license, delivered it to the Marriage Officer, solemnized the marriage
in the presence of a Marriage Officer (Sheldon L. A~) and two witnesses (Stephen G~
and Mary C~), both parties to the marriage were at least age eighteen years of age
(both being 23 years old at the time of the marriage), and there is no evidence that
a lawful impediment to the marriage existed. Thus, it appears that the marriage is
valid under Jamaican law.
Additionally, there is a strong presumption in favor of marriage in that the Marriage
Act states that no marriage shall be declared void on the ground that any of the conditions
of the Marriage Act directed to be observed were not duly observed. Id. at 4. The only identified reasons for voiding a marriage under Jamaican law include
situations where the person solemnizing the marriage was not a Marriage Officer, less
than two witnesses were present, one of the parties to the marriage was less than
age sixteen years old, the parties to the marriage were within the prohibited degree
of consanguinity or affinity, or the marriage involved two persons one of whom is
in articulo mortis (at the point of death) and not all formalities were followed.
Id. at 3-4, 37. As there are no facts to indicate that the marriage should be deemed
void, we believe that Jamaica would view this marriage as valid.
We also have no reason to believe that this marriage would violate Maryland public
policy rendering it void. Under Maryland's statute, any marriage that is prohibited
by statute is void. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 2-202 (2002). Void marriages include
those within a certain degree of affinity or consanguinity and marriages involving
certain minors. Id. Again, we do not have any facts to indicate that the Jamaican wedding included any
circumstances that would offend Maryland's public policy. Accordingly, it is our legal
opinion that Maryland would consider the Jamaican marriage between Ms. S~ and Mr.
In fact, Maryland's statutory scheme specifically requires each clerk to keep a foreign
marriage record book in the clerks' office and to record the foreign marriage when
presented with either a certificate of marriage signed by the individual who performed
the marriage ceremony or an official certified copy of a marriage record. Md. Code
Ann., Fam. Law § 2-502 (1984). The clerk must provide, under seal of the court, certification
of a foreign marriage in the same manner as he/she issues certification of a marriage
performed in Maryland. Id. Thus, we believe that Maryland would recognize the Jamaican marriage as valid.
C. Maryland State Law Would Recognize the Jamaican Marriage as a Basis for a
Legal Name Change
As we previously advised you in our January 30, 2006 memorandum discussing various
state requirements for a legal name change, Maryland law recognizes a ceremonial marriage
as a basis for a legal name change upon presentation of a marriage certificate. We
also advised that Maryland does not have a statute or published regulation that expressly
articulates what surname can result from a marriage. However, we noted that the Circuit
Court 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 nor husband can adopt
an entirely new surname. See also Stuart v. Board of Supervisors of Elections for Howard County, 295 A.2d 223, 226-27 (Md. 1972) (recognizing that a married woman may choose to
adopt the surname of her husband). Accordingly, we believe that Maryland would recognize
Ms. S~ Jamaican marriage as a basis for a legal name change to her husband's surname
We also note, as further support that Maryland would recognize the Jamaican marriage
as a basis for a legal name change, that the Maryland Department of Transportation
specifically allows an individual to change his/her name on a driver's license based
upon marriage. Md. Code Regs. 11.17.09.04(G). In fact, Ms. S~ submitted her Maryland
driver's license issued on January 12, 2005, demonstrating that Maryland allowed her
to change her last name to P~. For all the above reasons, we believe that Maryland
would recognize, and did recognize, Ms. S~ marriage to Mr. P~ in Jamaica as a basis
for changing her legal name to adopt her husband's surname.
D. The Jamaican Marriage Register is an Acceptable Document of Sufficient Probative
Value to Change Ms. S~ Name on Her Social Security Card Beginning December 2005, an
applicant must meet specific evidentiary requirements to change the name on his/her
Social Security card. 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. 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.
RM 0203.200G.2.; RM 00203.210B.
In this case, we believe the Marriage Register alone is an acceptable identity document
supporting the legal name change on Ms. S~ Social Security card. The Marriage Register
contains biographical information (age) in addition to Ms. 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 RM 00203.210). Inasmuch as the requested name change to "Sara Terese P~" can be easily derived
from the names of Sara Therese Louise S~ and Thomas Stephen P~, and the document contains
biographical information in the form of Ms. S~ age, we believe the marriage certificate
is sufficient evidence for Ms. S~'s name change.
We note that even if the Marriage Register alone was insufficient, Ms. S~ submitted
additional documentation that would allow SSA to change her legal name. An applicant
can also satisfy the requirements for a name change by submitting, in addition to
the name change document, two identity documents listed in RM 00203.200E. RM 00203.210B. One identity document must show the old name (the name on the latest Numident record)
while the other identity document must show the new name (the name to be shown on
the Social Security card). Id. The identity documents submitted must include either a photograph of the applicant
or provide biographical information that can be compared with the Numident data. Id. SSA complied priority lists of acceptable identity documents. RM 203.200E. Identity
documents of the highest probative value for a United States citizen age eighteen
and older include a United States driver's license and U.S. passport. RM 00203.200E.6.
In this case, Ms. S~ submitted identity documents of the highest probative value.
In addition to the Marriage Register (the name change document), Ms. S~ submitted
a United States passport in the name of "Sara Therese Louise S~" which includes her
date and place of birth as well as a Maryland driver's license in the name of "Sara
Terese P~" which includes her date of birth and physical characteristics of height
and weight. Both identity documents also include photographs that can be compared
with Ms. S~ most recent Numident data. Thus, as long as the aforementioned documentation
is consistent with Ms. S~ most recent Numident data, she has submitted documentation
of sufficient probative value to change her name to "Sara Terese P~" on her Social
For the reasons outlined above, we believe that (1) Maryland state law would recognize
the Jamaican marriage as valid; (2) Maryland 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 Ms.
S~ name on her Social Security card to Sara Terese P~.
James A. W~
Regional Chief Counsel
Kelly C. C~
Assistant Regional Counsel