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
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
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
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
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).