Can Sharon J. C~ (Claimant) be considered a surviving divorced spouse of Gary D. C~,
(W/E) since she was later adopted by W/E.
For the reasons stated below, we believe Claimant can qualify as W/E's surviving divorced
spouse under Georgia law.
On June 5, 1965, Claimant and W/E were married in Marquette County, Michigan. They
divorced in July 1980. Subsequently, W/E remarried in November 1983 to Malinda J.
C~ (W/E's second wife). Claimant gave birth in April 1985. Claimant was then unmarried
and never remarried. On November 19, 1985, W/E and his second wife adopted Claimant
and her new infant. W/E died a resident of Georgia in February 1996.
Under the Social Security Act (Act), a "surviving divorced wife" may be entitled to
widow's insurance benefits. See Act § 202(e), 42 U.S.C. § 402(e) (2005); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336 (2005). The Act defines
a "surviving divorced wife" as a woman divorced from the individual who has died if
she had been married to the individual for a period of 10 years immediately prior
to the date of their divorce. See Act § 216(d)(2), 42 U.S.C. § 416(d)(2) (2005); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336 (2005).
In this case, Claimant's marriage to W/E meets the 10 year durational requirement.
As such, Claimant is a "surviving divorced spouse." The troubling aspect of this case
is the subsequent adoption of Claimant by W/E.
Although W/E died while domiciled in Georgia, we must first look to Michigan law to
determine the effects of W/E's adoption of Claimant, because the adoption took place
in Michigan, and an adoption legally decreed in another state would be recognized
in Georgia. See Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-22 (2005). In Michigan, the entire subject of adoption is governed
entirely by statute. According to Michigan law, an adult may be adopted by another
individual. See Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 710.22, 710.24, 710.43, 710.60 (2005). Once an adoption occurs,
the legal relationship between the natural parent and child is severed. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 710.60. The adoption established new parent-child relationships
between Claimant and W/E and Claimant and W/E's second wife. See Mich. Comp. Law. § 710.60. There, however, is no indication that a prior spousal
relationship would be severed by the adoption.
Georgia would, therefore, recognize W/E's adoption of Claimant. In recognizing decrees
of adoption, Georgia law specifically states that all legal relationships between
the adopted individual and his/her relatives are terminated. See Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-19. However, spousal relationships are specifically excluded
from the effects of adoption. See id. Because the spousal relationship is not terminated by adoption, we believe Claimant
would still be recognized as the divorced spouse of W/E.
For the foregoing reasons, we believe Claimant qualifies as the surviving divorced
spouse of W/E.
Mary Ann S~
Regional Chief Counsel
Assistant Regional Counsel