TN 2 (12-09)
PR 05010.004 Arizona
A. PR 10-034 Reopening of Terminated Mother’s Benefits Due to a Defect in a Subsequent Marriage, Jodilyn B~, SSN ~
DATE: December 2, 2009
The fraudulent marriage ceremony was performed in Arizona. Since the parties are domiciled in Connecticut we look to that State to determine the validity of the marriage. Even if the marriage is valid under Arizona law, it would be void in Connecticut if a Connecticut statute expressly prohibits it.
The putative marriage provision functions to ensure that an otherwise eligible claimant is not deprived of benefits based on a marital defect of which the claimant was unaware. Applying the provision to validate a subsequent marriage between the claimant and a third-party in order to justify the termination of survivor's benefits would ignore the statutory context and intent. For the same reason the deemed marriage provision is inapplicable. Additionally, there is no Connecticut law that would allow either of them to inherit a spousal share of the other's intestate personal property.
This is in response to your request for an opinion concerning the validity of a marriage between two Connecticut residents solemnized in Arizona by an individual purporting to be a justice of the peace. You asked whether the marriage is void pursuant to POMS GN 00305.125, and if so, whether it constitutes a putative marriage under section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and associated regulations. You also asked whether the Commissioner’s decision to terminate Mother’s Insurance Benefits (“mother’s benefits”) on account of this marriage should be modified upon a finding that the marriage is void. For the following reasons, we believe that the marriage is void and that the Commissioner should reopen his decision and reinstate the previously terminated mother’s benefits, as per our policy described below.
Jodilyn B~, a resident of Connecticut, was entitled to mother’s benefits beginning in September 2007 on the record of her deceased husband, John B~. Her entitlement was scheduled to end in January 2009, based on John’s child attaining age sixteen on February 16, 2009. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.341(b). On September 13, 2008, Jodilyn married Michael L. R~, also a resident of Connecticut, in a ceremony performed in Arizona by Allen D. E~, who had represented himself as a justice of the peace. After spending eight days in Arizona, Jodilyn and Michael returned to Connecticut, where they continued to reside. In October 2008, the Commissioner terminated Jodilyn’s mother’s benefits based on her remarriage to Michael R~.
In March 2009, authorities in Arizona notified Jodilyn that she and Michael were the victims of a fraudulent scheme perpetrated by Mr. E~, who had misrepresented himself as a justice of the peace. Mr. E~ subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of criminal impersonation and attempted fraud. In September 2009, Jodilyn filed a request for reinstatement of mother’s benefits. She stated that she had no intention of remarrying or attempting to ratify her marriage to Michael R~.
Validity of Marriage between Jodilyn B~ and Michael R~
Generally, a surviving spouse’s entitlement to mother’s benefits ends when she remarries someone who is not entitled to benefits under Title II of the Act. 1_/ See § 202(g)(1) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.341(b). Benefits terminated for this reason should be reinstated, however, if it is determined that the subsequent marriage is void, meaning that it is “legally nonexistent from the beginning under State law, with or without a judicial decree.” POMS GN 00305.125. Although the Act specifies that the validity of a marriage between a surviving spouse and an insured decedent is determined by the law of the State in which the decedent was domiciled at the time of his death, neither the Act nor our regulations address which law governs the validity of the surviving spouse’s remarriage to a third party. See § 216(h)(1) of the Act. However, because all of the parties to this matter are (or, in the case of John B~, were) domiciled in Connecticut, we are confident that Connecticut would be the appropriate forum to adjudicate the validity of the marriage between Jodilyn and Michael. Cf. Manndorff v. Dax, 535 A.2d 1324, 1325 (Conn. App. Ct. 1988) (requiring the domicile of at least one party in Connecticut before a Connecticut court has jurisdiction over an annulment action).
Under Connecticut law, a marriage “entered into in another state or jurisdiction and recognized as valid by such other state or jurisdiction shall be recognized as valid in [Connecticut], provided such marriage or relationship is not expressly prohibited by statute” in Connecticut. Act of Apr. 23, 2009, Pub. Act. No. 09-13, § 1, 2009 Conn. Legis. Serv. (West) (Emphasis added); see also Catalano v. Catalano, 170 A.2d 726, 728 (Conn. 1961) (holding that a marriage performed out- of-state is void in Connecticut if it violates strong Connecticut public policy as expressed by statute); Town of South Windsor v. South Windsor Police Union, 677 A.2d 464, 468 (Conn. App. Ct. 1996) (explaining that Connecticut expresses its public policy through its statutes). Accordingly, even if Jodilyn and Michael’s marriage is valid in Arizona, where it was performed, it nevertheless would be void in Connecticut if a Connecticut statute expressly prohibits it. 2_/
Section 46b-24(d) of the Connecticut General Statutes states that: “Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, in order to be valid in this state, a marriage ceremony shall be conducted by and in the physical presence of a person who is authorized to solemnize marriages.” See also Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-22(a) 3_/ (describing the persons authorized to solemnize marriages in Connecticut and declaring void “marriages attempted to be celebrated by any other person”). Connecticut does recognize a limited exception to this general rule, and validates certain marriages celebrated prior to June 7, 2006, where the justice of the peace performing the ceremony was not duly authorized to do so. See Conn Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-22a. 4_/
Section 46b-24(d) expressly voids Jodilyn and Michael’s marriage because their officiant, Allen D. E~, was not authorized to solemnize it. Additionally, because the marriage was celebrated after June 7, 2006, it is not validated by Section 46b-22a 5_/
The Putative Marriage Provision Next you asked us whether Jodilyn and Michael have a putative marriage pursuant to section 216(h)(1)(A)(ii) of the Act. Under section 216(h)(1)(A)(ii), a claimant and an insured individual who are parties to an otherwise invalid marriage under state law, nevertheless are deemed married for purposes of the Act if the claimant could inherit a spousal share of the insured’s intestate personal property under the same state law. See § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.345; POMS GN 00305.085.
First of all, we do not believe that the putative marriage provision even applies to Jodilyn and Michael’s marriage. By its plain language, the putative marriage provision applies to marriages between a claimant and the insured individual on whose record the claimant seeks benefits. See §§ 216(h)(1)(A) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. The provision functions to ensure that an otherwise eligible claimant is not deprived of benefits based on a marital defect of which the claimant was unaware. See POMS GN 00305.085. Applying the provision to validate a subsequent marriage between the claimant and a third-party in order to justify the termination of survivor’s benefits would ignore the statutory context and intent. 6_/ See Califano v. Boles, 443 U.S. 282, 296 (1979) (purpose of mother’s insurance benefits is to provide the surviving mother with a meaningful choice between full-time employment and staying home with her children); Tsosie v. Califano, 630 F.2d 1328, 1335 (9th Cir. 1980) (“the principal purpose of Social Security survivor’s benefits is to replace support lost to the claimant by the death of the wage earner . . .”).
Notwithstanding the inapplicability of the putative marriage provision, Jodilyn and Michael do not have a putative marriage because there is no Connecticut law that would allow either of them to inherit a spousal share of the other’s intestate personal property. See Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 45a-437 (intestate succession statute setting forth spousal distribution); Boland v. Catalano, 521 A.2d 142, 145 (Conn. 1987); (holding that Connecticut does not recognize common law marriages and that “cohabitation alone does not . . . unlike marriage, impose other legal duties upon the parties”); Chong v. Deloma, No. 29 84 68, 1990 WL 274569, *2-3 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1990) (rejecting wife’s claim for intestate spousal share because she had not established the existence of a valid marriage under the Connecticut marriage statutes).
Reinstatement of Mother’s Benefits
Because Jodilyn and Michael’s marriage is void under Connecticut law, the Commissioner should reopen and revise his decision under POMS GN 00305.125(B)(2). Specifically, he should reinstate Jodilyn’s mother’s benefits as of October 2008, the month of the earlier termination. See POMS GN 00305.125(C). However, Jodilyn’s entitlement extends only through January 2009, the month before the month in which John B~’s child attained age sixteen. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.341(b). Accordingly, the Commissioner should pay Jodilyn approximately four months worth of mother’s benefits to cover the period from October 2008 through January 2009.
For the foregoing reasons, we believe that the marriage between Jodilyn B~ and Michael R~ is void under Connecticut law because it was solemnized by an unlawful officiant. Therefore, the Commissioner should reinstate Jodilyn’s mother’s benefits that were terminated on account of that marriage.
1_/ Michael R~ was not entitled to Title II benefits at the time of his marriage to Jodilyn.
2_/ Indeed, Jodilyn and Michael’s marriage appears to be valid under Arizona law. Marriages “solemnized by a person authorized by law to solemnize marriages or by a person purporting to act in such capacity and believed in good faith by at least one of the parties to be so authorized” are valid in Arizona. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-111 (Emphasis added); see also Donlann v. Macgurn, 55 P.3d 74, 79 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2002) (applying § 25-111 to validate a marriage performed by an unauthorized officiant). Based on the facts provided, it is evident that Mr. E~ purported to have legal authorization to perform the marriage ceremony and that Jodilyn and Michael believed in good faith that he was so authorized. Therefore, absent any other ceremonial deficiencies, which are not apparent from the facts provided, Jodilyn and Michael’s marriage is valid under Arizona law.
3_/Section 46b-22(a) should not be confused with Section 46b-22a, a different statutory provision under the Connecticut General Laws, which also is addressed in this opinion.
4_/ Section 46b-22a states: All marriages celebrated before June 7, 2006, otherwise valid except that the justice of the peace joining such persons in marriage did not have a valid certificate or qualification, are validated, provided the justice of the peace who joined such persons in marriage represented himself or herself to be a duly qualified justice of the peace and such persons reasonably relied upon such representation.
5_/ Section 46b-22a is also inapplicable to the matter at hand because it presumes that the officiant was a justice of the peace, but that he was unqualified for some reason to perform marriages. See Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-22a. Allen D. E~ was not even a justice of the peace.
6_/ Although you did not ask us whether Jodilyn and Michael have a “deemed valid marriage” under section 216(h)(1)(B)(i) of the Act, we believe that the deemed marriage provision is inapplicable for the same reason. See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.346 (“If your relationship as the insured’s wife, husband, widow, or widower cannot be established under State law . . . you may be eligible for benefits based upon a deemed valid marriage.”) (Emphasis added).