TN 18 (04-15)

PR 05005.048 Texas

A. PR 15-090 Texas State Law – Effect of Philippines Certificate of Finality on Marital Status

DATE: March 2, 2015

1. SYLLABUS

A choice of law analysis is required in this case because the NH’s and Claimant’s 1996 marriage and 2007 annulment took place in the Philippines, and the application of the laws of Texas and the Philippines would likely result in differing outcomes. At the time of the 2007 Philippine Annulment, both the NH and Claimant were domiciled in Texas and continued to be domiciled in Texas at the time the Claimant filed his applications for spousal benefits.  Applying the most significant relationship test, supports applying the Texas Law to determine whether the NH and Claimant were validly married.

Applying Texas law to the evidence we received, we believe that a Texas court would conclude that the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree terminated the 1973 Philippine marriage between the NH and Claimant and that the NH and Claimant validly re-married in June 1996, in the Philippines. The 2007 Annulment did not validly annul the 1996 Philippine re-marriage between the NH and accordingly, a Texas court would likely find that the NH and Claimant are still married for purposes of the Claimant’s entitlement to spousal benefits on the NH’s account.

2. OPINION

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

You asked whether M~ (NH), and R~, both of whom reside in Texas, were validly married in the Philippines, and if so, whether the marriage ended by annulment entered in the Philippines and was legally nonexistent from the beginning, or whether the marriage continues, in order to determine R~’s eligibility to receive spousal benefits on the NH’s account. R~ claims that although separated, he is still married to the NH. However, the NH claims that an annulment voided their marriage and that they are not married.1

ANSWER

This matter concerns two Philippine marriages, an Illinois divorce, and a Philippine annulment. In a choice of law analysis as to what law should apply, we believe that Texas would apply its laws in determining the validity of the NH’s and R~’s February 1981, Illinois divorce,2 June 1996 Philippine re-marriage, and May 2007 Philippine annulment. We believe that a Texas court would conclude that the May 1973, marriage between the NH and R~ was terminated by divorce in Illinois in February 1981, that the NH and R~ validly re-married on June 1996 in the Philippines, and that the 2007 Philippine annulment did not validly annul the June 1996 re-marriage between the NH and R~. Accordingly, a Texas court would likely find that the NH and R~ are still married and that R~ is entitled to spouse’s benefits on the NH’s account.

BACKGROUND

In January 2013, the NH became entitled to receive Title II retirement benefits. In March 2013, and in July 2013, R~ filed applications for husband’s insurance benefits on the NH’s account claiming that he is legally married to the NH despite separation in 2007.

The NH’s and R~’s 1973 Philippine Marriage and 1981 Illinois Divorce

As we understand the facts,, the NH and R~ married a first time in May 1973, in the Philippines (1973 Philippine marriage). We were provided with a copy of the 1973 Philippine marriage contract, which showed that they were issued a marriage license that day, that they were 23 and 25 years old, that they mutually consented to join together in holy matrimony, and that a city judge solemnized their marriage before two witnesses. They later had one child together. The NH moved to the United States in 1976, but R~ and their son stayed in the Philippines.

In February 1981, an Illinois court granted the NH’s petition for dissolution of marriage and issued a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage (1981 Illinois Divorce Decree), dissolving the NH’s 1973 Philippine marriage to R~. The 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree notes that R~ was served a copy of the NH’s petition by publication but that he failed to appear, file a pleading, or attend the hearing before the court. It is our understanding that he was living in the Philippines at this time. The 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree states that the Illinois court had jurisdiction over the NH because she was domiciled in Cook County, Illinois at the time she filed the petition to dissolve the marriage and remained domiciled there for more than 90 days preceding the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. The 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree states that the NH and R~ were lawfully married in May 1973, and that the marriage was recorded in the Philippines. The Illinois court found that without any fault of the NH, R~ deserted the NH starting in November 1975 and that the desertion continued through the date of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. Accordingly, the Illinois court awarded judgment in the NH’s favor dissolving the NH’s 1973 Philippine marriage to R~.

The NH’s Marriage and 1993 or 1994 Divorce from J~

In a July 2013, SSA Report of Contact, the NH advised the agency that after her Illinois divorce from R~, she later married J~. The NH stated that she and J~ divorced in 1993 or 1994 in Harris County, Texas. In her Form SSA-795, the NH reported that she and J~ divorced around 1994 or 1995. SSA’s records show that when the NH filed for Title II benefits, she reported that she married J~ in February 1981, in Illinois, and that they divorced in March 1995, in Texas. We do not have any documentation of this marriage or divorce.

The NH’s and R~’s 1996 Philippine Second Marriage and 2007 Philippine Annulment

In a July 2013, SSA Report of Contact, the NH advised the agency that in June 1996, the NH and R~ married a second time in the Philippines in a “church blessing marriage.” The Philippine marriage contract dated June 1996 (1996 Philippine marriage contract) identifies the Parish of the Holy Nazarene, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines as the place of marriage. A parish priest solemnized the June 1996, marriage, and two people witnessed. The 1996 Philippine marriage contract certifies that the NH and R~ mutually consented to lawfully join together in holy matrimony, but listed “N.A.” next to the marriage license number and issue date and indicated that the marriage was a “ratificacion” of their previous May 1973, Philippine marriage. At the time of the 1996 Philippine re-marriage, the NH was living in Houston, Texas, and R~ was living in the Philippines. After their 1996 re-marriage, the NH petitioned for R~ to come to the United States, which he did within a year and resided with the NH in Houston, Texas. R~ advised the agency that he and the NH lived together in Texas almost 10 years until 2007, when they again separated. However, the NH advised the agency that she and R~ only resided together for 7 or 8 years. The NH and R~ still reside in the United States.

The NH stated that she returned to the Philippines in 2007 to file for an annulment of the 1996 Philippine marriage contract. In May 2007, at the NH’s request, the Regional Trial Court sitting in Imus, Cavite, Republic of the Philippines (Philippine Court), declared the NH and R~’s May 1973, marriage null and void from the beginning (2007 Philippine Annulment). The Philippine Court issued an Entry of Final Judgment and Decree of Nullity of Marriage (Entry and Decree) dated July 2007, recognizing that the 2007 Philippine Annulment had become final. The NH advised the agency that in the Philippines, infidelity is a ground for annulment and that this was why the annulment was granted.

In the 2007 Philippine Annulment, the Philippine Court stated that R~ was validly served with summons but failed to file a responsive pleading. Thus, the Philippine court allowed the NH to establish the jurisdictional facts in the case, and trial ensued without R~’s presence. The Philippine court recognized that the NH and R~ married in May 1973, but did not mention the 1981 Illinois divorce or the 1996 Philippine marriage, and did not mention the NH’s marriage and divorce to J~.

The 2007 Philippine Annulment sets forth a summary of the NH’s testimony and the testimony of a psychiatrist. It indicates that the NH alleged that throughout their marriage, R~ had a history of being violent, “drinking, gambling, and womanizing.” A large focus of the NH’s testimony was upon R~’s infidelity during their marriage. Psychiatrist L~ testified that R~ had borderline personality disorder and was emotionally immature and impulsive. L~ opined that there was a strong possibility that R~’s borderline personality disorder was established at the time he married the NH and that R~ was therefore psychologically incapacitated to enter the marriage. The Philippines court concluded that R~’s psychological incapacity was permanent and caused marital dysfunctions and R~’s non-compliance with his marriage commitments. Accordingly, in the 2007 Philippine Annulment, the Philippine Court declared the NH’s and R~’s 1973 Philippine marriage “null and void from the beginning.”

In the Entry and Decree, the Philippine court stated that the parties were served copies of the 2007 Philippine Annulment, that in June 2007 the annulment became final, and instructed that the Decree be registered in the City Civil Registrar of Pasay City and the National Statistics Office. A certification dated July 2007, from the Office of the Civil Register, Municipality of Imus, affirmed that the Philippine court declared the NH’s and R~’s marriage null and void. Finally, the 1973 Philippine marriage contract has a note stating that pursuant to the 2007 Annulment, the marriage between the NH and R~ entered into in May 1973, was “declared null and void.”

The NH’s niece, G~, completed an “Affidavit of Singleness” dated August 2007, which stated that after the 2007 Philippine Annulment, the NH remained single. G~ stated that the NH currently worked in Texas, and also indicated the NH never entered into marriage with another man, either inside or outside the Philippines.

R~ states that although he and the NH separated in 2007, they are still legally married and that he was not notified of the annulment. Conversely, a July 2013, SSA Report of Contact indicates that the NH advised the agency that their marriage ended with an annulment obtained in the Philippines in 2007 on the ground of infidelity.3

ANALYSIS

  1. Entitlement to Social Security Spousal Benefits under the Social Security Act

    A claimant is entitled to spousal benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act) if, among other things, he is the husband of an insured individual who is entitled to old-age or disability benefits.4 See 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(c), 416(a)(1), (f); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330. The claimant bears the burden of proving that he is in a valid marital relationship with the insured and is therefore the insured’s spouse. See 20 C.F.R §§ 404.345, 404.704, 404.723, 404.725. In determining the claimant’s relationship as the insured’s spouse, the agency looks to the law of the state where the insured had a permanent home at the time the claimant applied for benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.344, 404.345; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00202.001(A); GN 00305.005(B).5 Permanent home means the individual insured’s true and fixed home or legal domicile. 20 C.F.R. § 404.303. Because the NH was domiciled in Texas at the time R~ filed both applications, we look to Texas law to determine whether the NH and R~ were validly married.

  2. Texas Choice of Law Analysis

    Because the NH’s and R~’s 1996 marriage and 2007 annulment took place in the Philippines, and because application of the laws of Texas and the Philippines would likely result in differing outcomes,6 a choice of law analysis is required. Thus, the initial question is whether Texas would apply Texas law or Philippine law in determining the validity of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree, the 1996 Philippine marriage, and the 2007 Philippine Annulment.7

    Historically, in choice of law decisions, Texas courts applied the law of the place of marriage or divorce to determine its validity (the place of celebration test). See Braddock v. Taylor, 592 S.W.2d 40, 42 (Tex. Civ. App.—Beaumont 1979, writ refused n.r.e.); Portwood v. Portwood, 109 S.W.2d 515 (Tex. Civ. App.—Eastland 1937, writ dismissed). However, the Texas Supreme Court held in Duncan v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 665 S.W.2d 414 (Tex. 1984) that Texas should follow the most significant relationship test set out in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts, section 6(2), in choice of law cases, except where the parties have agreed to a valid choice of law clause. Following Duncan, Texas courts of appeals have applied the most significant relationship test to choice of law questions in the context of out-of-state marriage and divorce. See Seth v. Seth, 694 S.W.2d 459, 462-64 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1985, no writ); but see De Leon v. Perry, 975 F.Supp.2d 632, 660-661 (W.D. Tex. 2014) (the validity of a marriage is generally determined by the law of the place where celebrated); Husband v. Pierce, 800 S.W.2d 661, 663 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1990, no writ).

    Before applying section 6(2)’s most significant relationship factors, we also recognize that the Texas Supreme Court has held that in applying the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts, the first question in a choice of law analysis is to look at whether, under section 6(1), Texas has a clear statutory directive regarding choice-of-law in the context of determining the validity of a foreign or out-of-state marriage and divorce. See Citizens Ins. Co. of America v. Daccach, 217 S.W.3d 430, 443 (Tex. 2007). The Texas Family Code provides that “the law of this state applies to persons married elsewhere who are domiciled in this state.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.103.8 Although some Texas cases have described section 1.103 as a choice of law provision or a specific statutory directive on choice of law, we did not locate any Texas cases interpreting or defining the scope of this provision. See, e.g., Citizens Ins. Co. of America, 217 S.W.3d at 464 (concurrence) (identifying section 1.103 as an “explicit ‘directive . . . on choice of law’”); In re Marriage of J.B. & H.B., 326 S.W.3d at 668-69 (describing section 1.103 as a “general choice-of-law provision”). We were also unable to locate any Texas Supreme Court case specifically addressing whether the significant relationship test applies for choice of law in the specific context of determining the validity of out-of-state marriages or addressed the impact or interplay of section 1.103 of the Texas Family Code on this determination.

    Here, the evidence shows that at the time of the 1996 Philippine marriage, the NH resided in Texas, but R~ resided in the Philippines. At the time of the 2007 Philippine Annulment, both the NH and R~ were domiciled in Texas and continued to be domiciled in Texas at the time R~ filed his applications for spousal benefits. However, because neither the plain language of section 1.103 or any Texas case law explains the scope of section 1.103’s choice of law provision and given the choice of law analysis and holdings in Duncan and Seth (and other cases) applying the most significant relationship test, we consider section 1.103, in conjunction with the most significant relationship factors listed in section 6(2) of the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts in determining whether Philippine law or Texas law applies in this case.

  3. The Most Significant Relationship Test Supports Applying Texas Law

    Section 6 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts sets forth the following choice of law principles:

    1. a court, subject to constitutional restrictions, will follow a statutory directive of its own state on choice of law;

    2. when there is no such directive, the factors relevant to the choice of the applicable rule of law include:

      1. the needs of the interstate and international systems,

      2. the relevant policies of the forum (the place of the trial),

      3. the relevant policies of other interested states and the relevant interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue,

      4. the protection of justified expectations,

      5. the basic policies underlying the particular field of law,

      6. certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result, and

      7. ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied.

    In applying the most significant relationship test, it is not the number of contacts with a particular state or country that determines which law controls; rather it is the qualitative nature of the particular contacts. Duncan, 665 S.W.2d at 421.

    As noted, following Duncan, Texas courts of appeals have applied the most significant relationship test to choice of law questions in the context of marriage and divorce. See Seth, 694 S.W.2d at 462-64. Thus, we must utilize the Restatement factors of the most significant relationship test to determine whether a Texas court would apply Texas or Philippine law in deciding the validity of the NH’s and R~’s divorce, re-marriage, and subsequent annulment.

    The Seth case offers helpful guidance in examining how a Texas court would analyze the present facts under the significant relationship test. Seth, 694 S.W.2d 459. The Seth case addressed the question of whether Islamic or Texas law should apply to divorce proceedings in Texas, where prior marriage and divorce ceremonies all occurred under Islamic law in India and Kuwait.9 The Seth court determined that the Restatement factors of the relevant policies of the forum (Texas) and the protection of the parties’ justified expectations, explained in detail below, required application of Texas law to resolve the issues raised by the marriage and divorce ceremonies that occurred in Kuwait and India. Id. at 462-464. As explained below, we find that a majority of the Restatement factors support applying Texas law in deciding the validity of the NH’s and R~’s divorce, re-marriage, and subsequent annulment.

    1. The Relevant Policies of the Forum (Texas)

      We believe that in the present matter, as in Seth, the relevant policy of the forum (Texas) is one of the most critical factors in determining whether to apply Texas or Philippine law. In Seth, the court emphasized that aside from being the forum, or the location of the court where the trial was taking place, Texas had a nexus with the parties to the lawsuit, including that the husband and his second wife had lived in Texas for five years and acquired property together in Texas. Seth, 694 S.W.2d at 463. Thus, in Seth, Texas had a strong interest in resolving the matters of the divorce.

      Similarly, the parties herein also have a strong connection to Texas. The NH resided in Texas at the time she married R~ in the Philippines in June 1996, and sometime in 1997, R~ joined the NH in Texas. The NH and R~ resided together in Texas for a number of years from around 1997 until sometime between 2004 and 2007. Further, although the evidence shows that they ceased living together after the 2007 Philippine Annulment, both the NH and R~ resided in Texas at the time R~ filed his applications. Because the NH and R~ resided together in Texas during the majority of their re-marriage, and because both parties continue to live in Texas, Texas has a strong interest in resolving matters concerning the validity of the parties’ re-marriage and subsequent annulment.

      The Seth court found it to be completely contrary to Texas policy to apply Islamic law to the non-Muslim first wife, who was unaware of the ex-parte talak divorce her Muslim husband obtained. Seth, 694 S.W.2d at 463. The court determined that applying Islamic law would bear a harsh result to the non-Muslim first wife. Id. at 463-464. The court found that allowing a non-Muslim man to convert to Islam and then one year later divorce his wife in an ex parte process of which she was not aware, and in which he merely had to pronounce three times the phrase “I divorce you,” was harsh and ran “so counter to our notions of good morals and natural justice that we hold that Islamic law in this situation need not be applied.” Id. at 463.

      Although not quite as extreme as the result in Seth, applying Philippine law would be contrary to Texas policy, which permits a defendant to collaterally attack a judgment on the basis of lack of due process. See P.N.S. Stores, Inc. v. Rivera, 379 S.W.3d 267, 272-73 (Tex. 2012); see also Peralta v. Heights Medical Ctr., Inc., 485 U.S. 80, 84 (1988) (“Failure to give notice violates ‘the most rudimentary demands of due process of law.’”) (citations omitted). Further, Texas courts may look beyond the recitations in the judgment to determine whether the judgment is void. See P.N.S. Stores, Inc., 379 S.W.3d at 272-73. In contrast, Philippine law would bar R~’s ability to challenge the Philippine court’s jurisdiction to render the 2007 Annulment unless he obtained a Philippine court order invalidating the 2007 Annulment. See January 2014 Report at 4-5; October 2014 Report at 5. Because R~ neither participated in the annulment proceedings in the Philippine court, and he alleged that he did not receive notice of such proceedings until after the Philippine court issued the 2007 Annulment, applying Philippine law would be contrary to Texas’s policies regarding challenging judgments for lack of jurisdiction or due process. Thus we conclude under this Restatement factor that the relevant policies of the forum (Texas) strongly support applying Texas law to determine the validity of the 1996 Philippine marriage and the 2007 Philippine Annulment.

    2. The Protection of Justified Expectations

      We find that the Restatement factor concerning the protection of the parties’ justified expectations does not clearly support application of either Philippine or Texas law in this case. Because the NH and R~ were married in the Philippines, and because the NH returned to the Philippines to have the marriage annulled in 2007, the NH might anticipate that Philippine law governs the validity of her marriage and subsequent annulment. However, because the NH is domiciled in Texas and because both the NH and R~ resided in Texas during their marriage, they might expect that Texas law determines the validity of their marriage and annulment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.345 (providing that the agency looks to the law of the state where the insured had a permanent home at the time the claimant applied for benefits). Thus, this factor does not clearly weigh in favor of the application of either Philippine law or Texas law.

    3. The Relevant Policies of Other Interested States and the Relevant Interests of Those States in the Determination of the Particular Issue

      The Philippines has a broad interest in regulating its citizens’ marriages within its borders and in upholding marriages and annulments that comply with its relevant laws. However, we find that the Philippine’s interest is weakened in this case because the NH and R~ resided together in the United States for the majority of the time between their 1996 re-marriage and 2007 annulment. Both continued to reside in Texas at the time R~ applied for spousal benefits. Further, the Philippines does not have an interest or stake in whether its citizens who have moved to the United States are able to collect Social Security benefits. Although the Philippines has some interest in the outcome of this case, we find that because Texas’ relevant policies and interests outweigh the Philippines’ interests, Texas law should apply in determining the validity of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree, the 1996 Philippine re-marriage, and the 2007 Philippine Annulment.

    4. Certainty, Predictability, and Uniformity of Result

      With respect to the certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result, this Restatement factor supports application of Texas law. As the forum state, a Texas court applying Texas law would produce a more certain, predictable, and uniform result than applying Philippine marriage and annulment law. See, e.g., EA Oil Serv., Inc. v. Mobil Exploration & Producing Turkmenistan, Inc., No. 14-99-00706-CV, 2000 WL 552406, at *3 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] May 4, 2000) (unpublished) (indicating that as the forum, the application of Texas law would certainly provide a more certain, predictable, and uniform result than application of Turkmenistan law). Thus, this factor weighs in favor of applying Texas law.

    5. Ease in the Determination and Application of the Law to be Applied

      With respect to the ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied, we find that this Restatement factor does not clearly favor the application of either Texas or Philippine law. Although a Texas court could easily apply Texas law, a Texas court’s application of Philippine law would not create an unduly burdensome task as was present in Seth. In Seth, the evidence presented to the court contained somewhat conflicting evidence regarding whether the talak divorce proceeding that took place was valid under Islamic law under the facts presented. Seth, 694 S.W.2d at 463. Additionally, Seth potentially involved the laws of two countries (India and Kuwait), as well as consideration of Islamic law as it pertained to Muslims (husband and second wife) and non-Muslims (the first wife). In contrast, the facts in this case would only require the application of the Philippine law, rather than multiple countries’ laws. Thus, this factor does not clearly weigh in favor of applying either Texas law or Philippine law. See, e.g., BDO Seidman, LLP v. Bracewell & Patterson, LLP, No. 05-02-00636-CV, 2003 WL 124829, at *5 (Tex. App.—Dallas Jan. 16, 2003, pet. denied) (unpublished) (concluding that the ease in determination and application of the law to applied to did not clearly favor Texas law over Louisiana law, as it was “not so daunting that a Texas court would be unable to correctly apply it”).

    6. The Needs of the Interstate and International Systems

      In terms of the needs of the interstate and international systems involved, as the court observed in Seth, because the facts of this case are unusual and case specific, it does not seem likely that this singular case involving these individuals implicates the broad needs of the international systems. Seth, 694 S.W.2d at 463; see also Seizer v. Sessions, 940 P.2d 261, 265-66 (Wash. 1997) (concluding that the court’s decision in a divorce case did not impact commercial intercourse between the states of Texas and Washington and thus the needs of the interstate and international systems was not relevant in determining which state’s law applied). Thus, this Restatement factor does not provide helpful guidance as to which law to apply.

    7. The Basic Policies Underlying the Particular Field of Law

      Concerning the basic policies underlying family law, there is support for upholding the marriage and re-marriage under both Texas and Philippine law. However, section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act defers to state law to determine family status issues. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A). The issue in this case involves the right to Social Security benefits based on a family law determination. Therefore, the basic policies underlying the issues in this case weigh in favor of applying Texas law.

    Accordingly, weighing all of the Restatement factors of the most significant relationship test, and considering section 1.103’s instruction that Texas law apply to individuals domiciled in Texas but married elsewhere, we believe that a Texas court would apply Texas law in determining the validity of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree, 1996 Philippine re-marriage, and 2007 Philippine Annulment.

  4. D. Application of Texas Law

    1. The 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree Terminated the NH’s and R~’s 1973 Philippine Marriage.

      We first analyze whether a Texas court would conclude that the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree validly terminated the 1973 Philippine marriage between the NH and R~. See POMS RS 00202.075A2 (proof of a claimant’s divorce from the NH usually constitutes evidence of a claimant’s valid marriage to the NH). Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution (the Full Faith and Credit Clause), provides that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” U.S. Const. art. 4, § 1. Generally, the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires a state to enforce a sister state’s judgment unless the sister state did not have jurisdiction to render the judgment. See, e.g., Johnson v. Johnson, 37 S.W.3d 523, 526-27 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2001, no pet.).

      Texas courts analyze three jurisdictional elements with regard to a sister state’s judgment: “(1) jurisdiction over the subject matter; (2) jurisdiction over the person or res; and (3) power to render the particular relief awarded.” Id. at 527. A sister state judgment is presumed valid, and this presumption applies even in cases where the judgment was entered by default. See, e.g., First Nat’l Bank of Libby, Montana v. Rector, 710 S.W.2d 100, 103 (Tex. App.—Austin 1986, writ refused n.r.e.). Further, recitals in the judgment are presumed valid and the party challenging the judgment bears the burden of proving that the sister state court lacked jurisdiction. See id.

      We conclude that Texas would probably afford full faith and credit to the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. First, Texas would likely find that the Illinois court had subject matter jurisdiction. At the time of the dissolution proceedings in 1981, Illinois law required that one of the parties to a dissolution proceeding be domiciled in the state at the time the petition is filed and that domicile be maintained for 90 days “next preceding the making of the findings.” See, e.g., In re Marriage of Parks, 461 N.E.2d 681, 684 (Ill. App. Ct. 1984) (citing Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 40, par. 401). Here, the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree’s statement that the NH was domiciled in Cook County, Illinois, at the time she filed her petition to dissolve her marriage, and that she maintained this domicile for more than 90 days “next preceding the making of these findings” is consistent with Illinois’s domicile requirement at the time the court dissolved the 1973 Philippine marriage. Id.; See First Nat’l Bank of Libby, Montana, 710 S.W.2d at 103 (providing that recitals in a sister state’s judgment are presumptively valid). As such, a Texas court would probably conclude that the Illinois court had subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., In re Marriage of Gryka, 413 N.E.2d 153, 155 (Ill. App. Ct. 1980) (“[D]omicile for the requisite period of time as provided by statute was a fact necessary to confer subject matter jurisdiction on the court issuing the decree of dissolution of marriage.”).

      Texas would also likely find that the Illinois court properly acquired in rem jurisdiction over the marital status of the NH and R~. Illinois law in 1981 permitted service by publication in certain circumstances, such as in the case of a defendant who resided outside the state. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 110, par. 2-206; State Bank of Lake of Zurich v. Thill, 497 N.E.2d 1156, 1161 (Ill. 1986) (noting that the civil code of procedure authorized service of process by publication). Serving a non-resident defendant by publication satisfies the requirements for obtaining in rem jurisdiction over the marital status. See In re Marriage of Brown, 506 N.E.2d 727, 729 (Ill. App. Ct. 1987); Davis v. Davis, 293 N.E.2d 399, 403 (Ill. App. Ct. 1973). Here, the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree states that R~ was served a copy of the NH’s petition for dissolution of marriage by publication and R~ does not challenge service. See First Nat’l Bank of Libby, Montana, 710 S.W.2d at 103 (providing that recitals in a sister state’s judgment are presumptively valid and the party challenging a judgment bears the burden of proving lack of jurisdiction). Thus, a Texas court would probably conclude that the Illinois court acquired in rem jurisdiction to dissolve the 1973 Philippine marriage between the NH and R~. See In re Marriage of Brown, 506 N.E.2d at 729.

      And finally, Texas would probably conclude that the Illinois court had the power to enter a judgment dissolving the May 1973, marriage between the NH and R~. Illinois law at the time of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree provided that a court could enter a judgment of dissolution of marriage if the respondent wilfully deserted or absented himself from the petitioner for one year without cause or provocation by the petitioner. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 40, par. 401. The 1981 Divorce Decree states that without any fault of the NH, R~ deserted the NH starting in November 1975 and that the desertion continued through the date of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. R~ does not challenge these facts. See First Nat’l Bank of Libby, Montana, 710 S.W.2d at 103 (providing that recitals in a sister state’s judgment are presumptively valid and the party challenging a judgment bears the burden of proving lack of jurisdiction). Thus, Texas would determine that the Illinois court had the power to render the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree.

      Because the evidence we received shows that Illinois had subject matter and in rem jurisdiction, as well as the power to dissolve the marriage, we conclude that Texas would likely give full faith and credit to the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. Accordingly, a Texas court would find that the 1973 Philippine marriage between the NH and R~ terminated in February 1981, per a valid divorce.10

    2. Under Texas Law, the NH and R~ validly married in June 1996

      We next analyze whether a Texas court applying Texas law would determine that the NH and R~ validly re-married in June 1996, in the Philippines. We conclude that a Texas court would probably conclude that the 1996 Philippine re-marriage between the NH and R~ established a valid ceremonial marriage under Texas law. As noted above, the 1996 Philippine marriage contract showed that they participated in a solemnized ceremony a parish priest conducted and two persons witnessed and that they mutually consented to join together in holy matrimony. While it listed “N.A.” next to the marriage license number and issue date, it stated that it was a “ratificacion” of the prior 1973 Philippine marriage and referred to the marriage license issued with their prior 1973 marriage.

      At the time if June 1996, Philippine re-marriage ceremony, the Texas Family Code provided that, “a man and a woman desiring to enter into a ceremonial marriage shall obtain a marriage license from the county clerk of any county of this state.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.01 (1996).11 The law also provided that a licensed or ordained Christian minister or priest was authorized to conduct a marriage ceremony upon receipt of an unexpired marriage license. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 1.82, 1.83(a)(1) (1996).12 Additionally, the individual who conducted a marriage ceremony was required to subscribe the marriage license and return it to the issuing county clerk within 30 days after the ceremony. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.84(a) (1996).13 Despite these requirements, Texas law did not require the exchange of any specific vows or oaths during the ceremony. See, e.g., Husband v. Pierce, 800 S.W.2d 661, 664 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1990, no pet.) (“[H]istorically, that is, from 1836 to the present date, Texas law has never mandated any particular vows, oaths, or other responses in the marriage ceremony.”). Texas law presumes every marriage entered into in Texas is valid unless expressly made void, or is voidable and judicially annulled pursuant to chapter six of the Texas Family Code. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101. In addition, Texas courts have long held that statutory requirements, such as those directing that a marriage license be obtained prior to the ceremony and recorded and returned after the ceremony, are “merely directory,” see Portwood, 109 S.W.2d at 521, and that the failure to comply with such formalities does not render the marriage void unless a statute declares it so. See In re Estate of Loveless, 64 S.W.3d at 576 (citing Williams v. White, 263 S.W.2d 666, 668 (Tex. Civ. App.—Austin 1954, writ refused n.r.e.)).

      In this case, a Texas court applying Texas law would likely conclude that the NH and R~ validly married in June 1996. The 1996 Philippine marriage contract indicates that both the NH and R~ mutually consented to join together in holy matrimony as husband and wife and that a parish priest solemnized this marriage in a ceremony with two witnesses. Further, both the NH’s and R~’s statements affirm that both believed they married in June 1996. Although the 1996 Philippine marriage contract and other evidence indicate that the parties did not obtain or record a marriage license with respect to the June 1996, ceremony, such failure does not render the marriage void unless a statute specifically prescribes so. See Loveless, 64 S.W.3d at 576. We did not locate any Texas statutes declaring a marriage void for failure to obtain and record a marriage license. Further, as noted, Texas law applies a strong presumption in favor of the validity of marriages. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101. The evidence presented shows that after this 1996 Philippine marriage, the NH petitioned to have R~ live with her in the United States, that he began living with the NH in 1997, and that they lived together as husband and wife in the United States until their separation between 2005 or 2007. Thus, a Texas court would likely determine that the NH’s and R~’s June 1996, Philippine marriage ceremony established a valid marriage under Texas law.

    3. 3. Under Texas Law, the NH’s and R~’s June 1996, Marriage Was Not Validly Annulled.

      Having determined that the NH and R~ validly married in June 1996, we next turn to whether Texas would find that the NH’s and R~’s marriage was validly annulled in 2007, or whether Texas would find that the NH and R~ remain married. We conclude that a Texas court applying Texas law would probably conclude that the NH’s and R~’s marriage was not validly annulled and that R~ remains married to the NH.

      1. The Application of Texas Law to the 2007 Philippine Annulment

        As stated, Texas law affords a strong presumption to the validity of marriages. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101 (“[I]t is the policy of this state to preserve and uphold each marriage against claims of invalidity unless a strong reason exists for holding the marriage void or voidable.”); see also Schacht v. Schacht, 435 S.W.2d 197 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1968, no writ) (“One of the strongest presumptions of law is that a marriage, once being shown, is valid.”). Accordingly, a valid marriage, whether ceremonial or at common law, terminates only by death, divorce, or court-decreed annulment. See Phillips v. The Dow Chem. Co., 186 S.W.3d 121, 127 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, no pet.); see also Claveria’s Estate v. Claveria, 615 S.W.2d 164, 167 (Tex. 1981) (noting that although Texas recognizes common law marriage, it does not recognize common-law divorce). A divorce is proper for postnuptial reasons, whereas an annulment relates to antenuptial causes. See McDade v. McDade, 16 S.W.2d 304, 305 (Tex. Civ. App.—Texarkana 1929, no writ). With annulment, the annulled marriage is declared to have been voidable or void from the beginning and is as though it had never occurred. See Trammell v. Trammell, 290 S.W.2d 324, 326 (Tex. Civ. App.—Waco 1956, writ refused n.r.e.); McDade, 16 S.W.2d at 305. With divorce, the marriage was valid from the beginning and terminated with the divorce. McDade, 16 S.W.2d at 305.

        Here, the Philippine court concluded, based upon testimony from the NH and a psychiatrist, that R~ had a psychological incapacity that caused his marital dysfunctions and resulted in his infidelity during his marriage with the NH. Accordingly, in the 2007 Philippine Annulment, the Philippine Court declared the NH’s and R~’s 1973 marriage “null and void from the beginning.” The NH claims that her marriage ended with this annulment. The NH also advised the agency that her ground for the annulment was R~’s infidelity. R~ claims, however, that he is still married to the NH. We examine the legal bases for annulment under Texas law to determine if Texas would find that the 2007 Philippine Annulment rendered the marriage void and null from the beginning.

        A marriage may only be judicially annulled for one of the statutorily enumerated grounds. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101; Coulter v. Melady, 489 S.W.2d 156, 158 (Tex. Civ. App.—Texarkana 1972, writ refused n.r.e.). Texas law currently recognizes the following grounds for annulment: (1) marriage of person under age 18; (2) a party to marriage was under the influence of alcohol or narcotics at the time of the marriage; (3) a party to the marriage was permanently impotent at the time of the marriage; (4) a party to the marriage used fraud, duress, or force to induce the other party into the marriage; (5) a party to the marriage lacked the mental capacity to consent to the marriage or to understand the nature of the marriage ceremony because of the mental disease or defect; (6) a party to the marriage obtained and concealed a divorce from a third party within 30-days before the marriage ceremony; and (7) the marriage ceremony took place less than 72 hours after issuance of the license. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 6.102 – 6.110.

        Here, the 2007 Philippine Annulment and the NH’s statements to the agency establish R~’s infidelity as the basis for the annulment. Although at the time of the annulment in 2007, Texas law recognized adultery as a ground for obtaining a divorce, the Texas Family Code did not recognize adultery as a reason by which a court could annul a marriage. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.003 (2007); see also Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101 (2007) (a court may only judicially annul a marriage according to the statutorily-enumerated grounds). Thus, Texas law does not permit annulment based upon infidelity.

        The 2007 Philippine Annulment also suggests that R~ was “psychologically incapacitated” at the time of his marriage to the NH. As noted, mental incapacity of a party to a marriage is a ground for annulment under Texas law. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108. At the time of the annulment in 2007, the Texas Family Code provided that a court could grant an annulment to one spouse on the basis that the other spouse was mentally incapacitated if: (1) at the time of the marriage the other spouse did not have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage or understand the nature of the marriage ceremony because of a mental disease or defect; (2) at the time of the marriage the petitioner neither knew nor reasonably should have known of the mental disease or defect; and (3) since the petitioner discovered or reasonably should have discovered the mental disease or defect, the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabitated with the other spouse. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108(b) (2007) (emphasis added). As addressed below, we do not believe that the NH met these three criteria for annulment due to R~’s alleged mental incapacity.

        As to section 6.108’s first criteria, Texas courts appear to equate mental incapacity with a complete inability to understand the nature, duties, and consequences of entering a marriage. See, e.g., Smith v. Monroe, 1 S.W.2d 358, 362 (Tex. Civ. App.—El Paso 1927, writ dismissed); see also Kerckhoff v. Kerckhoff, 805 S.W.2d 937, 939-40 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1991, no writ) (finding sufficient evidence to uphold an annulment based on mental incapacity where the husband suffered from dementia causing severe memory loss and an inability to recall recent events or identify people he recently met and shortly after the marriage referred to his wife as a “good friend” rather than his wife); Christoph v. Sims, 234 S.W.2d 901, 903-04 (Tex. Civ. App.—Dallas 1950, writ refused n.r.e.) (noting that an individual seeking to annul a marriage on the ground that he was without sufficient mental capacity to enter the marriage due to intoxication must show that he was so drunk he did not understand his action or the nature of transacting a marriage). Further, because marriage is associated with sentiment and affection, rather than clear reason and sound judgment, Texas courts have concluded that an individual “may have sufficient mental capacity to contract a valid marriage, although he may not have mental capacity to contract generally.” Christoph, 234 S.W.2d at 904.

        Here, although the 2007 Philippine Annulment declares the NH’s marriage to R~ void due to R~’s psychological incapacity, the court’s rationale appears to be based on R~’s purported infidelity rather than his mental incapacity to enter the marriage, which is not a sufficient reason to annul a marriage under Texas law. See McDade, 16 S.W.2d at 305 (noting that although a divorce is proper for postnuptial reasons, an annulment relates to antenuptial reasons). The 1996 marriage contract shows that R~ consented to marrying the NH, and it does not indicate that R~ was unable to consent or understand his actions. Because the NH has not presented evidence showing that R~ did not have the ability to consent or understand the act of entering a marriage at the time of their June 1996, re-marriage, a Texas court probably would not find that R~ was mentally incapacitated under the first criteria of section 6.108 of the Family Code for purposes of annulling the 1996 Philippine marriage. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108(b)(1) (providing that a court may only grant an annulment to a party to a marriage if at the time of the marriage the other spouse did not have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage or understand the nature of the marriage ceremony because of a mental disease or defect).

        Even if a Texas court concluded that R~ was mentally incapacitated for purposes of section 6.108’s first criteria, we believe the NH has not met section 6.108’s third criteria. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108(b)(3) (since the date the petitioner discovered or reasonably should have discovered the mental disease or defect, the petitioner has not voluntarily cohabited with the other party). The evidence shows that the NH voluntarily cohabitated with R~ after she discovered or should have reasonably discovered R~’s mental incapacity. The 2007 Philippine Annulment states that in 2000, the NH discovered that R~ continued to financially support his mistress. These statements show that the NH either discovered or should have discovered R~’s alleged mental incapacity by at least the year 2000. However, both the NH’s and R~’s statements to the agency indicate that they stopped cohabitating at some point between 2005 and 2007. Thus, because the evidence shows that the NH continued to voluntarily cohabitate with R~ after she discovered or should have reasonably discovered R~’s alleged mental incapacity, a Texas court would likely find that all of the requirements for an annulment on the grounds of mental incapacity were not satisfied. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.108(b) (2007).

      2. Applying the Principle of Comity to the 2007 Philippine Annulment

        For completeness, we also analyzed whether a Texas court would recognize the 2007 Philippine Annulment pursuant to the principle of comity.14 The Full Faith and Credit Clause, which applies to judgments rendered by other states within the United States of America, does not apply to foreign country judgments. See Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Tremblay, 223 U.S. 185, 190, 32 S.Ct. 309, 56 L.Ed. 398 (1912). However, a state may choose to enforce a foreign country’s judgment under the principle of comity. See Derr v. Swarek, 766 F.3d 430, 436 (5th Cir. 2014). Comity allows a court to “give effect to the laws and judicial decisions of another [country], not as a matter of obligation, but out of deference and respect.” AG Volkswagen v. Valdez, 897 S.W.2d 458, 462 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1995, orig. proceeding) mandamus granted, 909 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1995) (citing Keene Corp v. Caldwell, 840 S.W.2d 715, 720 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th dist.] 1992, orig. proceeding)). “Although comity is not an ‘absolute obligation,’ it is more than ‘mere courtesy and good will.’” Derr, 766 F.3d at 438 (citing Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113, 163-64 (1895)).

        In determining whether to recognize the 2007 Annulment under the principle of comity, a Texas court would first consider whether the Philippine Court had jurisdiction based on Texas law. See Banco Minero v. Ross, 172 S.W. 711, 713 (Tex. 1915) (“Jurisdiction is the main essential of every judgment, and a judgment of a foreign court which is without the power to render has no currency anywhere.”). Texas law provides different jurisdictional requirements for divorce proceedings and annulment proceedings. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.301; Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.306; McDade, 16 S.W.2d at 305 (noting the distinction between the jurisdictional requirements for a divorce proceeding and a proceeding to annul a marriage). A suit to annul a marriage is proper if the parties were married in that state or if either party was domiciled in that state. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.306(a). Applying Texas’s jurisdictional requirements for an annulment proceeding to the evidence in this case, a Texas court would find that the Philippines court had subject matter jurisdiction over the 2007 annulment proceeding. The evidence shows that both the 1973 marriage and the 1996 marriage between the NH and R~ occurred in the Philippines. Thus, a suit to annul the 1973 Philippine marriage or the 1996 Philippine marriage could be maintained in the Philippines pursuant to Texas’s jurisdictional requirements. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.306(a).

        Nevertheless, a Texas court would likely refuse to recognize the 2007 Philippine Annulment based on due process concerns because R~ did not participate in the proceedings and it is questionable whether he had actual notice of the annulment proceeding before the Philippine court. See, e.g., In re E.H., 450 S.W.3d 166, 172 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. filed) (“[D]ue process requires that no other jurisdiction shall give effect, even as a matter of comity, to a judgment elsewhere acquired without due process.”) (citing Griffin v. Griffin, 327 U.S. 220, 228 (1946)); Risch v. Risch, 395 S.W.2d 709, 712 (Tex. Civ. App.—Houston 1965, writ dismissed) (a Mexican divorce obtained by husband without notice of any kind to wife was void); Schacht, 435 S.W.2d at 202 (a Mexican divorce decree was void for lack of jurisdiction where the husband traveled to Mexico for the purpose of obtaining a divorce and resided there less than six months and the wife was not served process, did not consent to a divorce proceeding in Mexico, and made no appearance in the Mexican divorce proceedings); see also Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law § 482(2)(b) (a U.S. court need not recognize a foreign judgment were the “defendant did not receive notice of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend”).

        Furthermore, the evidence we received strongly suggests that the NH did not provide a full or accurate disclosure of the facts to the Philippine court during the annulment proceeding. See, e.g., Banco Minero, 172 S.W. at 714-15 (“[T]he chief requisite for the recognition of a foreign judgment necessarily is that an opportunity for a full and fair trial was afforded.”). The 2007 Philippine Annulment shows that the NH maintained her marriage to R~ throughout the entire time period from May 1973, up until the annulment proceedings in 2007. However, the NH obtained a divorce from R~ in 1981 in Illinois, married J~, divorced J~, and then re-married R~ in 1996 in the Philippines. The significant discrepancy between the facts before the agency and the facts discussed in support of the 2007 Philippine Annulment strongly suggests that the NH withheld critical information to the Philippine court. This indicates that the proceedings before the Philippine court were not a full and fair trial and that a Texas court would likely not accord comity to the 2007 Philippine Annulment.

        However, even if a Texas court afforded full recognition to the 2007 Philippine Annulment under the principle of comity, we conclude that the court would nevertheless determine that the 2007 Philippine Annulment did not annul the June 1996, marriage between the NH and R~ based on the plain language of the annulment that addressed only their 1973 marriage and declared their 1973 marriage to be null and void. Texas courts apply the same rules of interpretation to the meaning of a court order or judgment that apply to other written instruments. See Lone Star Cement Corp. v. Fair, 467 S.W.2d 402, 404–05 (Tex. 1971) (orig. proceeding). When a judgment or decree is unambiguous, Texas courts “declare the effect of the decree in light of the literal meaning of the language used,” and “where the language is plain, it must be enforced as written.” See Treadway v. Shanks, 110 S.W.3d 1, 6 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2000) aff'd, 110 S.W.3d 444 (Tex. 2003) (citing Wilde v. Murchie, 949 S.W.2d 331, 332–33 (Tex. 1997) (per curiam) and Republic Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. Spillars, 368 S.W.2d 92, 94 (Tex. 1963)). Courts do not consider extrinsic matters to interpret a judgment when the judgment itself is plain and unambiguous. McLeod v. McLeod, 723 S.W.2d 777, 779 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1987, no writ).

        In this case, the 2007 Philippine Annulment unambiguously declared the 1973 Philippine marriage between the NH and R~ null and void from the beginning. However, the 2007 Philippine Annulment makes no reference to the NH’s and R~’s 1996 Philippine re-marriage. Although the evidence presented shows that the NH obtained the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree terminating her 1973 Philippine marriage to R~, and then subsequently re-married R~ on June 3096, in the Philippines, we believe that a Texas court would not consider such evidence when giving effect to the 2007 Philippine Annulment since the annulment itself is plain and clear. McLeod, 723 S.W.2d at 779 (“When the judgment or order on its face is plain and unambiguous, extrinsic matters may not be considered to give the decree a different effect from that expressed by the literal meaning of the words used therein.”) (citation omitted). Because the plain language of the 2007 Philippine Annulment is only susceptible to one interpretation—that the NH and R~’s 1973 Philippine marriage was null and void from the beginning—a Texas court would likely conclude that the 2007 Philippine Annulment did not annul the 1996 Philippine marriage.

        Accordingly, because a Texas court would likely determine that the 2007 Philippine Annulment did not properly annul the 1996 Philippine marriage, and because we received no other evidence indicating that the NH and R~ terminated their marriage, R~ remains validly married to the NH.

CONCLUSION

We believe that Texas would apply its own laws to determine the validity of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree, June 1996 Philippine re-marriage, and 2007 Philippine Annulment. Applying Texas law to the evidence we received, we believe that a Texas court would conclude that the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree terminated the 1973 Philippine marriage between the NH and R~, that the NH and R~ validly re-married in June 1996 in the Philippines, and that the 2007 Annulment did not validly annul the 1996 Philippine re-marriage between the NH and R~. Accordingly, a Texas court would likely find that the NH and R~ are still married for purposes of R~’s entitlement to spousal benefits on the NH’s account.

Regional Chief Counsel, Region VI

By: Assistant Regional Counsel, Region VI

B. PR 07-010 Entitlement to Widow's Benefits Where Divorce was Never Obtained and Husband Remarried

DATE: October 30, 2006

1. SYLLABUS

Under TX law a marriage is void if entered into when either party has an existing marriage to another person that has not been dissolved by legal action or terminated by the death of the other spouse. The presumption in favor of the validity of the most recent marriage may be rebutted by evidence which negates dissolution of the previous marriage. Determining whether the presumption applies is a factual decision. If claimant is unable to carry his/her proof, the presumption of validity attaching to NH's marriage to last wife will continue.

2. OPINION

You have asked for advice as to whether G~ (SSN ~) can receive widow's benefits based on the Social Security record of her deceased husband, J~ (SSN ~). Your request for advice raises two specific questions. The first is whether G~ is entitled to receive benefits as J~’s widow. If she is not, the second question is whether she can receive benefits based on J~'s Social Security record as a surviving divorced wife. Based on the facts of this case, we believe you would be justified in concluding that G~ is not entitled to widow's benefits on J~'s record.

Factual Background

The memorandum you forwarded with your request indicates that G~ (Claimant) and J~ were married in June 1967, in the state of Louisiana. J~ married V~ in May 1979, in Longview, Texas. J~ died in March 2006, and was domiciled in the state of Texas at the time of his death.

In a prior claim for disability benefits, Claimant reported that her marriage to J~ ended in divorce in January 1974. According to a statement made by Claimant in conjunction with her current claim, she and J~ lived together for 11 years and separated in 1978. Claimant reported that she was never served or notified of any divorce proceedings and that she and J~ never discussed divorce.

Field Office employees requested a search of divorce records in Harrison and Gregg counties in Texas for the years 1969 to 1979 which did not show any record of a divorce between J~ and Claimant. An internet search of the state of Texas divorce records for the same time period also showed no record of a divorce.

V~ verified that she married J~ in May 1979, in Longview, Texas. She stated that the marriage license was filed in Marshall, Texas. V~ thought J~ was previously married, but was not certain. She did not know the name of the possible previous spouse, the length of the previous marriage, or when, or if, the divorce was finalized.

Analysis

Is Claimant J~'s Widow?

The Social Security Act provides that an applicant is the wife or widow of an insured individual "if the courts of the State in which such insured individual. . . was domiciled at the time of death . . .would find that such applicant and such insured individual were validly married . . . at the time [the insured individual] died." 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Because J~ was domiciled in Texas at the time of his death, Claimant will be considered his widow if Texas courts would find them validly married at the time of his death.

Every marriage entered into in Texas "is presumed to be valid unless expressly made void by Chapter 6 or unless expressly made voidable by Chapter 6 and annulled as provided by that chapter." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.101 (Vernon, Westlaw through 2006 sesion). Chapter 6, section 202 provides:

a. A marriage is void if entered into when either party has an existing marriage to another person that has not been dissolved by legal action or terminated by the death of the other spouse. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.202 (Vernon, Westlaw through 2006 sesion). Therefore, if J~ was still married to Claimant when he married V~, his marriage to V~ is void under Texas law.

Texas law, however, presumes the validity of the most recent marriage.

When two or more marriages of a person to different spouses are alleged, the most recent marriage is presumed to be valid as against each marriage that precedes the most recent marriage until one who asserts the validity of a prior marriage proves the validity of the prior marriage. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.102 (Vernon, Westlaw through 2006 sesion). Therefore, Claimant has the burden to present evidence to overcome the presumption that J~'s marriage to V~ was valid. Chandler v. Chandler, 991 S.W.2d 367, 393 (Tex. App. El. Paso, 1999). "This presumption is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, known to law." Bailey-Mason v. Mason, 122 S.W.3d 894, 898 (Tex. App. 2003). Once evidence is presented that the previous marriage was not dissolved, determining whether the presumption applies is a factual decision. See id. Therefore, the question is whether a fact-finder would find that Claimant has produced sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption that J~'s marriage to V~ was valid.

The presumption in favor of the validity of the most recent marriage "may be rebutted by evidence which negates dissolution of the previous marriage." Id. In this case, the evidence that Claimant's marriage to J~ was never dissolved includes her 2006 statement reporting that she was never notified of any divorce proceedings and the absence of a Texas divorce decree dissolving the marriage of Claimant to J~.

Although some evidence of the absence of a divorce has been presented, the search of records is incomplete. The parties were married in and lived in Louisiana, but Louisiana divorce records have not been researched. Claimant currently lives in Kansas, and a search of those divorce records has not been completed either. Claimant is not required to "prove the non-existence of a divorce or annulment in every jurisdiction where such proceedings could have been possible, but only where the parties might reasonably have been expected to have pursued them." Medrano v. State of Texas, 701 S.W.2d 337, 341 (Tex. App. 1985). At present, the search of records is incomplete in some likely jurisdictions.

Additionally, "[t]he presumption may outweigh positive evidence to the contrary and its strength increases with the lapse of time, acknowledgement by the parties to the marriage, and the birth of children." Id. In an earlier claim for disability benefits, Claimant made a statement to the Agency that her marriage to J~ ended in divorce in 1974. Claimant's statement that she and J~ had divorced increases the strength of the presumption in favor of the validity of J~'s second marriage. Furthermore, according to Claimant's statements, she and J~ had not lived together for at least 28 years prior to his death. J~ and V~ had lived together as a married couple for over 26 years at the time of his death. The length of J~'s marriage to V~ increases the strength of the presumption of the validity of their marriage. See id.; see also Osuna v. Quintana, 993 S.W.2d 201, 210 (Tex. 1999); Cardwell v. Cardwell, 195 S.W.3d 856, 858-59 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2006) (putative spouse who acted in good faith receives the same rights in property as lawful spouse). Considering the evidence as a whole, it is reasonable to assume that a fact-finder would determine that the evidence of the absence of a divorce does not overcome the presumption that J~ and V~'s 26-year marriage was valid.

With the current evidence, a fact-finder would likely find J's marriage to V~ to be valid, and therefore, V~ is J~'s widow. Because Claimant would not be considered J~'s widow under Texas law, she is likewise not his widow under the Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Based on the foregoing analysis and facts of this case, we believe Claimant, G~, is not entitled to widow's benefits based on the Social Security record of J~.

Is Claimant Entitled to Surviving Divorced Wife Benefits?

The Act provides that widow's and surviving divorced wives can receive widow's insurance benefits if they meet certain criteria. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 402 (e). In order to be a surviving divorced wife, one of the requirements is that the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 416 (d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336. Therefore, the question is whether Claimant and J~ were married for 10 years.

Claimant has the burden of proof that she is eligible for surviving divorced spouse benefits. See 5 U.S.C.A. § 556 (d). Therefore, Claimant has the burden to prove she was married to J~ for 10 years or more. In her statement related to her claim for widow's benefits, Claimant reported that she married J~ on June 18, 1967, lived with him for 11 years, they separated in 1978, and that she did not know of any legal proceedings to dissolve their marriage. If this statement is true, Claimant and J~ were married over 10 years, and she may be a surviving divorced spouse. However, in an earlier application for disability benefits, Claimant provided a contrary statement that she and J~ were divorced in 1974. If Claimant's marriage to J~ ended in 1974, she is not eligible for surviving divorced spouse benefits because the marriage lasted less than 10 years.

Because of Claimant's inconsistent statements, we believe she has not carried her burden to prove she was married to J~ for 10 years. However, should additional evidence become available to show Claimant and J~ were married for at least 10 years, Claimant may qualify for surviving divorced spouse benefits based on J~'s record. Examples of evidence that would tend to show that Claimant and Mr. B~ remained married for 10 years include: jointly filed tax returns, insurance policies, leases, and titles or deeds showing they purchased property jointly dated after June 19, 1977. See Martin v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 875 F.2d 865, at *2 (6th Cir. 1989) (unpublished table decision); Hudes v. Callahan, No. 96 Civ. 4283(AGS) 1997 WL 570560, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 12, 1997). In addition, development would be necessary to ensure that claimant meets the other requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.336 before surviving divorced spouse benefits were awarded.

Based on the foregoing analysis and facts of this case, we believe Claimant, G~, is not entitled to widows' benefits or surviving divorced spouse benefits based on the Social Security record of J~.

Frank V.

Regional Chief Counsel

By:__________________________
Angela T
Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:

[1]

The legal opinion request also asks if the 1996 re-marriage ended by divorce in 2007. It is our understanding that R~’s application is for husband’s insurance benefits and that he claims he is still married to the NH, but that the NH claims the marriage was annulled. It does not appear that R~ has also filed a claim for divorced spouse’s benefits. As a result, we do not address in this opinion whether R~ meets the requirements for benefits as the NH’s divorced spouse, which includes a 10-year durational marriage requirement. See 42 U.S.C. 416(d)(4); 20 C.F.R. § 404.331. The focus of this legal opinion is determining the legal impact of the 2007 annulment for purposes of determining R~’s entitlement to spouse’s benefits as the NH’s husband. See 42 U.S.C. 416(f); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330.

[2]

We note that your request for a legal opinion asked only about the validity of the June 1996, marriage and subsequent annulment. However, because additional evidence we received indicates that the NH and R~ married a first time in May 1973, and the NH obtained a divorce in February 1981, we also analyzed the validity of the February 1981 divorce.

[3]

SSA’s records offer some conflicting statements as to dates regarding the termination of the marriage and show that when the NH filed for Title II benefits, she indicated that she married R~ in August 1997, in the Philippines, and that she divorced R~ in August 2007, in the Philippines. SSA’s records also show that when R~ filed for spousal benefits, he indicated that he married the NH in June 1996, in the Philippines, and that the marriage ended in July 2007, by annulment. In another report, he stated that his marriage ended by divorce in May 2007. However, at this same time, R~ also claimed that he was currently legally married to the NH, though they had been separated since 2007.

[4]

To be eligible for spousal benefits, the claimant must also show that he: (1) has been married to the insured individual for at least one year, shares a natural child with the insured, or is entitled to certain benefits in the month before the marriage; (2) has filed an application for spousal benefits; (3) has attained aged 62 or has in his care a child entitled to child’s benefits; and (4) is either not entitled to old-age or disability benefits, or is entitled to such benefits based on a primary insurance amount which is less than one-half of the spouse’s primary insurance amount. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(c); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330. As we have not been asked to provide an opinion on whether R~ meets these additional requirements, our opinion will focus on whether R~ is the NH’s spouse.

[5]

We note that the Act also provides that if certain requirements are satisfied, a claimant may receive benefits as a number holder’s deemed spouse. See 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(B)(i), (iv); 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(a) (providing that a claimant is a deemed spouse if the claimant participated in a marriage ceremony with the number holder that did not result in a valid marriage because of a legal impediment); POMS RS 00202.001(A). However, because the evidence we received indicates that the NH and R~ did not live in the “same household,” at the time he filed his applications for spousal benefits, he is not eligible to receive benefits as a deemed spouse. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.346(b), 404.347. Thus, we need not further analyze whether R~ qualifies as a deemed spouse.

[6]

Consistent with our established practice when a legal opinion request involves interpretation of foreign law, we sought guidance from the Law Library of Congress regarding marriage laws in the Philippines. See Law Library of Congress, Philippines: Marriage Law, No. 2014-011117 (October 2014) (attached); Law Library of Congress, Philippines: Marriage Law, No. 2014-010179 (January 2014) (attached). Based on the information the Law Library of Congress provided, a Texas court applying Philippine law would likely conclude that no valid marriage existed between the NH and R~. However, for the reasons provided herein, Philippine law does not apply in this case.

First, Philippine law would not recognize the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree as terminating the NH’s and R~’s 1973 Philippine marriage. Philippine law generally does not provide for a divorce between two Filipino citizens in the Philippines or abroad. However, if two Filipino citizens marry and subsequently one of the them acquires another citizenship and then obtains a divorce, Philippine law may recognize the divorce. The date the Filipino citizen acquires foreign citizenship is critical, as the divorce must be obtained after acquiring foreign citizenship to gain recognition under Philippine law. In this case, the evidence shows that the NH and R~ divorced in Illinois in 1981, however, the NH did not become a naturalized U.S. citizen until 1988 or 1989. Because the NH did not become a naturalized U.S. citizen until after her 1981 Illinois divorce from R~, Philippine law probably would not recognize the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree as terminating the NH’s and R~’s 1973 Philippine marriage.

In addition, under Philippine law, the NH and R~’s 1996 Philippine marriage is not a legally effective marriage. The evidence shows that a priest solemnized the parties’ 1996 marriage pursuant to article 77 of the Philippine Civil Code. Article 77, which was repealed in 1988 and thus not in effect at the time of the parties 1996 marriage, allowed two individuals who were previously legally married to ratify their union under the rites, regulations, or practices of any church, religion, or sect. This ratification did not require compliance with the legal requirements concerning marriage, such as a marriage license, because it represented only a ratification of a previously celebrated legal marriage. Thus, the 1996 marriage represented only a religious confirmation of the original 1973 marriage rather than a separate, valid marriage under Philippine law.

Finally, under Philippine law, the 2007 Philippine Annulment properly invalidated the NH’s and R~’s 1973 marriage from the beginning. Here, the May 2007, judicial ruling declared that the NH’s and R~’s 1973 Philippine marriage was void from the beginning due to R~’s psychological incapacity. Philippine law provides that the psychological incapacity of one party to the marriage serves as a ground for declaring a marriage void from the beginning. Thus, under Philippine law, a valid marriage between the NH and R~ never existed.

[7]

We recognize that an Illinois court issued the 1981 Divorce Decree. However, because the application of Illinois law would probably result in the same outcome as the application of Texas law, a choice of law analysis with respect to Illinois law is not necessary. See, e.g., Williams v. Home Indem. Co., 722 S.W.2d 786, 787-88 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1987, no pet.) (noting that a choice of law analysis was not required because the application of Texas law would produce the same result).

[8]

Section 1.103 is not new; rather, this statutory provision has been in place since 1879, though prior versions specified that the provision concerned the rights of persons married elsewhere who acquired property rights in Texas during their marriage. See Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. 1879, art. 2859 (“The marital rights of persons married in other countries, who may remove to this state, shall, in regard to property acquired in this state during the marriage, be regulated by the laws of this state.”). In 1967, the Legislature re-worded this section to state, “The law of this state shall apply to persons married elsewhere who are domiciled in this state.” See Acts 1967, 60th Leg., ch. 309, Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 4627 (Vernon 1967). However, it remained under the chapter pertaining to the rights of spouses. With the adoption of the Family Code, this provision remained under the chapter entitled rights, duties, powers, and liabilities of spouses. See Acts 1969, 61st Leg., ch. 888, Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 4.01 (Vernon 1969). Further statutory revisions in 1997 moved the current section 1.103 to a general provisions chapter and public policy subchapter of the subtitle pertaining to marriage, as opposed to placing it under the subtitle related to marital property rights and liabilities. See Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 7, Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 1.103. The legislative history for this provision indicates that it was not intended as a statutory directive on choice of law in determining the validity of an out-of-state or foreign marriage; rather, the provision pertained more narrowly to the applicable law applied to property rights acquired in Texas during the marriage. We also recognize that even after moving this section to the broader subtitle in 1997 and out of the chapter pertaining to marital and property rights, Texas courts of appeals have continued to recognize the most significant relationship test as the choice of law analysis in the marriage context, as applied in the Seth case. See In re Estate of Loveless, 64 S.W.3d 564, 575 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2001, no pet.); see also In re Marriage of J.B. & H.B., 326 S.W.3d 654, 668-669 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2010, pet. granted Aug. 23, 2013) (noting that the place-of-celebration rule has been rejected by more recent cases on point in favor of the most significant relationship test).

[9]

The Seth case concerned the validity of a divorce obtained in Kuwait under Islamic law between a husband and his first wife, who had been married in India, and its impact on the validity of the husband’s second marriage on Islamic marriage ceremonies in India and in Kuwait. The husband and first wife, both non-Muslims at the time, married in India in 1957. Seth, 694 S.W.2d at 461. In 1966, the husband began cohabitating with a second woman, and in 1967, the United States granted him permanent resident alien status. Id. In 1975, the husband and second woman converted to Islam and were married in an Islamic ceremony in India. Id. In 1976, the husband, now a Muslim, obtained a divorce in Kuwait from his first wife (who remained non-Muslim and had never converted to Islam) under Islamic law through an ex parte divorce procedure known as talak. Id. Under talak, the divorce is rendered when the husband pronounces three times: “I divorce you.” Id. The first wife was not aware that the Islamic talak had been performed. Id. The day after the talak procedure, the husband underwent a second Islamic marriage ceremony with the second wife (also Muslim). Id. Although both the husband and second wife remained citizens of India, they began living in Texas in 1977 as permanent resident aliens and acquired property in Texas. Id. Five years later, in 1982, the second wife filed for divorce from the husband in Dallas County, Texas. Id. at 459. The first wife filed a plea in intervention alleging that she was the lawful wife of the husband because the divorce was invalid, and therefore, the second wife’s marriage to the husband was never valid. Id.

[10]

Even if a Texas court was not required to afford full faith and credit to the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree, we conclude that a Texas court might estop both the NH and R~ from challenging the validity of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree based on equitable principles. First, as the NH herself requested that the Illinois court dissolve her 1973 Philippine marriage to R~, Texas could estop her from challenging the validity of the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. See, e.g., Campbell v. Campbell, 362 S.W.2d 904, 909-11 (Tex. Civ. App.—Austin 1962, writ dismissed) (concluding that a husband was estopped from questioning the validity of an order vacating a divorce which he himself requested, acquiesced in, and did not question for over three years). Further, the NH reported that she married another man, J~, after obtaining the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree. See, e.g., Ex Parte Serenil, 734 S.W.2d 71, 75 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1987), dismissed Sept. 16, 1987 (noting that an individual who procures a divorce and re-marries is estopped from challenging the validity of the divorce). Further, a Texas court might estop R~ from now challenging the 1981 Divorce Decree, more than 30 years after it was rendered, because his re-marriage to the NH in June 1996, indicates that he also accepted that the 1981 Illinois Divorce Decree terminated his 1973 Philippine marriage to the NH. See, e.g., Campbell, 362 S.W.2d at 911 (“As both parties conceived their marital status to be, and by their conduct affirming such conception, so should they be bound.”).

[11]

The current version of this provision is codified at Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 2.001(a).

[12]

The current versions of these provisions are codified at Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 2.202(a)(1) and 2.203.

[13]

The current version of this provision is codified at Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 2.206.

[14]

Texas provides for recognition of foreign country judgments in certain situations under the Uniform Country Money-Judgment Recognition Act (UFCMJRA). See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 36.003 (noting that chapter 36 of the civil practice and remedies code is known as the UFCMJRA). However, because the 2007 annulment does not qualify as a “foreign country judgment” as the UFCMJRA defines that term, the UFCMJRA does not apply in this case. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 36.001(2) (“‘Foreign country judgment’ means a judgment of a foreign country granting or denying a sum of money. . .”) (emphasis added); see, e.g., Sanchez v. Palau, 317 S.W.3d 780, 786 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, pet. denied) (concluding that the UFCMJRA did not authorize a trial court to recognize a Mexican divorce decree because the UFCMJRA applied to judgments granting or denying a sum or money and specifically excluded judgments for support in a matrimonial or family matter).


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PR 05005.048 - Texas - 04/07/2015
Batch run: 04/07/2015