TN 4 (09-15)

PR 05205.036 North Carolina

A. PR 15-185 D~ – Status of Marital Relationship between D~ and Number Holder O~ for Purposes of Entitlement for Wife’s Benefits – North Carolina and New York

Date: August 17, 2015

1. Syllabus

Under North Carolina law, underage marriages are at most voidable and are considered valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. In this case, the Claimant married in North Carolina prior to obtaining the legal age of consent, but a child was born during the marriage, the Claimant lived with her then spouse past the age of majority, and the parties ratified the marriage by living together after Claimant reached the age of consent, therefore, the marriage between Claimant and her then spouse cannot be declared void. Thus, Claimant was lawfully married under North Carolina law. The Claimant’s North Carolina husband was still living and the Claimant and her North Carolina husband were still lawfully married at the time Claimant and the NH married in New York. Accordingly, Claimant’s marriage to the NH is void under New York law on the basis of Claimant’s bigamy. Under the facts of this case, we do not believe New York courts would recognize the presumption of validity that attaches to the ceremonial marriage of Claimant and the NH.

The Claimant’s relationship as a wife of the insured NH can be established under the Social Security Act (Act), provided the requisite factors for a deemed marriage are met. We recommend further development of the record on the issue of whether claimant acted in good faith before you reach this conclusion. If an adjudicator establishes a deemed marriage, then Claimant would be eligible for wife’s benefits on the NH’s account, provided she meets all other eligibility requirements.

2. Opinion

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether D~ (Claimant), who previously entered into an underage marriage in North Carolina, is validly married in New York to number holder O~ (NH) and therefore entitled to wife’s benefits on the record of the NH.

OPINION

Under North Carolina law, underage marriages are at most voidable and are considered valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. In this case, where Claimant married in North Carolina prior to obtaining the legal age of consent, a child was born during the marriage, and Claimant lived with her then spouse past the age of majority, the marriage between Claimant and her then spouse cannot be declared void. In addition, the parties ratified the marriage by living together after Claimant reached the age of consent. Thus, Claimant was lawfully married under North Carolina law. Because Claimant’s North Carolina husband was still living, Claimant and her North Carolina husband were still lawfully married at the time Claimant and the NH married in New York. Accordingly, Claimant’s marriage to the NH is void under New York law on the basis of Claimant’s bigamy. Under the facts of this case, we do not believe New York courts would recognize the presumption of validity that attaches to the ceremonial marriage of Claimant and the NH. Regardless, Claimant’s relationship as a wife of the insured NH can be established under the Social Security Act (Act), provided the requisite factors for a deemed marriage are met. However, we recommend further development of the record on the issue of whether claimant acted in good faith before you reach this conclusion. If an adjudicator establishes a deemed marriage, then Claimant would be eligible for wife’s benefits on the NH’s account, provided she meets all other eligibility requirements.

BACKGROUND1

Claimant was born D~ on November XX, XXXX. On November XX, XXXX, a few days before her 18th birthday, Claimant married J~ in Northampton, North Carolina. Their marriage was conducted by a justice of the peace. Claimant’s father, who was alive at the time, did not sign her marriage certificate. Claimant lived with Mr. P~ on and off in North Carolina from 1963 to 1966, and had a son with him in 1966. Claimant and Mr. P~ separated and never lived together again after 1966.

Claimant married the NH under the name D~2 on November XX, XXXX in Brooklyn, New York.3 On her marriage license, Claimant indicated that she had never been previously married.

Mr. P~ never remarried, and died on December XX, XXXX in Northampton, North Carolina. Claimant was listed as his surviving spouse on his death certificate.

Claimant, under the name D~, applied for wife’s insurance benefits on the NH’s record on June XX, XXXX.4 During the application process, Claimant stated that she never sought a divorce nor had the marriage to Mr. P~ formally voided by a court before marrying the NH because she believed her marriage to Mr. P~ was void. According to Claimant, the North Carolina Bureau of Vital Statistics informed her that her marriage to Mr. P~ was not “legal” because she married Mr. P~ while underage and without her father’s consent or signature.

In June 20, 2013 statements to SSA, Claimant stated that she had separated from Mr. J~ in 1984 and reunited in 2009. They had lived together since 2009. The NH stated that he moved back in with Claimant in 2008 or 2009. Subsequently, in July 2, 2013 statements, Claimant and the NH stated that they had separated from 1988 to 1993, and that the NH had returned to live with her in 1993. Both Claimant and the NH currently live together in New York.

ANALYSIS

Claimant May Be Entitled for Wife’s Benefits on the NH’s Account as the Deemed Wife of the NH

  1. Social Security Laws and Regulations Concerning Insured Wife’s Benefits

    To qualify for wife’s insurance benefits under section 202(b) of the Act a claimant must apply for such benefits, be the insured’s “wife,” as defined in section 216(b), be 62 years-old, and must not be entitled to an old-age or disability benefit based upon a primary insurance amount that is equal to or larger than the full husband’s benefit. Act §§ 202(b) and 216(b), 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(b) and 416(b); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.330 and 404.344. Additionally, the claimant’s relationship with the insured as a wife must have lasted at least one year. Act § 216(b); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330(a)(1).

    To determine whether the claimant qualifies as the insured’s “wife,” we look to the laws of the state where the insured had a permanent home when the claimant applied for wife’s benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.345; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.344. If the claimant and the insured were validly married under state law at the time the claimant applied for wife’s benefits, the relationship requirement will be met. 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. The relationship requirement will also be met if under state law the claimant would be able to inherit a wife’s share of the insured’s personal property if he were to die without leaving a will. 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.

    If the relationship as the insured’s wife cannot be established under State law as explained in 20 C.F.R. § 404.345, the claimant may alternatively be eligible for benefits based upon a deemed valid marriage. Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(a); see also 20 C.F.R. 404.344. A claimant will be deemed to the wife of the insured if, in good faith, she went through a marriage ceremony with the insured that would have resulted in a valid marriage except for a legal impediment. Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(a). A legal impediment includes only an impediment which results because a previous marriage had not ended at the time of the ceremony or because there was a defect in the procedure followed in connection with the intended marriage. Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(iv); 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(a). Good faith means that at the time of the ceremony she did not know that a legal impediment existed, or if she did know, she thought that it would not prevent a valid marriage. 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(a). Further, to be entitled to benefits as a wife as the result of a deemed valid marriage, the claimant and the insured must have been living in the same household at the time she applied for benefits. Act § 216(h)(1)(B)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.346(b); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN00305.055 B and C provides definitions of marriage ceremony, good faith and legal impediment, as well as the development needed for each of these factors.

  2. Claimant’s Marriage To Mr. P~ Was Valid Under North Carolina Law

    Under North Carolina law, a valid marriage is created by the consent of a male and female “who may lawfully marry” to take each other as husband and wife expressed in the presence of each other and in the presence of a minister or a magistrate, or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe. 5 See N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-1 (West 2015); see also N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-6 (West 2015) (solemnization without marriage license unlawful; at least two witnesses to marriage ceremony required); POMS PR 05205.036. North Carolina law provides that all marriages “between a male person under 16 years of age and any female, or between a female person under 16 years of age and any male . . . shall be void.” N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-3 (West 2015). North Carolina law also provides that persons over 16 years of age and under 18 years of age may marry only with parental consent. See N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §51-2(a1) (West 2015); POMS PR 05205.036. Further, all marriages “between persons either of whom is incapable of contracting from want of will or understanding, shall be void.” N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-3 (West 2015); POMS PR 05205.036. The statutory language in effect at the time Claimant and Mr. P~ were married is consistent with the current language. POMS PR 05205.036 (citing Ivery v. Ivery, 129 S.E.2d 457, 461 (N.C. 1963) (discussing the statutory language in effect in the 1960s)).

    Accordingly, a person under the age of consent lacks capacity to enter into a valid marriage without parental consent. However, “[n]o marriage followed by co-habitation and the birth of issue shall be declared void after the death of either of the parties for any of the causes stated in [N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-3]…except for bigamy.” See N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-3 (West 2015). Given these exceptions, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that “the word ‘void’ used in the statute, will be construed to mean ‘voidable,’ thus rendering the marriage valid until it has been declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction in an action directly attacking the validity of the marriage.” Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462 (N.C. 1963); POMS PR 05205.036.

    Furthermore, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that where a marriage is voidable because one of the parties was underage at the time of the marriage, the “marriage may be ratified by the subsequent conduct of the parties in recognition of the marriage.” Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462. The parties may ratify the marriage by living together after the underage participant reached the age of consent. See Sawyer v. Slack, 146 S.E. 864, 865 (N.C. 1929); see also POMS PR 05205.036 (citing N.C. Op. Att’y Gen. Op., 2001 WL 1712684, at *1 (questioning whether underage marriages can be declared invalid when ratified by cohabitation after the underage participant reached the age of consent)).

    Accordingly, under North Carolina law, underage marriages are at most voidable and are considered valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. In this case, where Claimant married Mr. P~ prior to obtaining the legal age of consent, without parental consent, and a child was born during the marriage, the marriage between Claimant and Mr. P~ cannot be declared void. In addition, the parties ratified the marriage by living together after Claimant reached the age of consent. Therefore, Claimant and Mr. P~ were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

  3. Claimant’s Marriage to the NH Is Not Valid Under New York Law

    1. Polygamy

      The Record indicates that claimant and the NH were married by a city clerk in New York on November XX, XXXX. At that time, Mr. P~ was still alive.

      Under New York Domestic Relations Law, a marriage is valid if the parties to the marriage properly obtain and deliver the marriage license prior to the marriage ceremony, see N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 13 (McKinney 2015), and the marriage is solemnized by a city clerk. N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 11 (McKinney 2015). Because Claimant and the NH apparently properly obtained and delivered their marriage license prior to having their marriage solemnized by a city clerk, New York would normally recognize that Claimant and the NH entered into a valid, ceremonial marriage on November XX, XXXX.

      It is well-established New York law that when a court is confronted with the claim that a formal second marriage is invalid because of the existence of a valid first marriage, a strong presumption of validity attaches to the second marriage. See Grabois v. Jones, 89 F.3d 97, 100 (2d Cir. 1996); In re Meehan’s Estate, 150 A.D. 681, 683 (1st Dept. 1912); see also Seidel v. Crown Industries, 132 A.D.2d 729, 730, 517 N.Y.S.2d 310, 311 (3rd Dept. 1987) (stating that “the presumption favoring the validity of the second marriage is stronger than the presumption that the prior marriage continued”); POMS PR 05005.035. Furthermore, the presumption of validity of the second marriage becomes “stronger and stronger where a substantial injustice would be created by invalidating that marriage.” Grabois, 89 F.3d at 100; see Dolan v. Celebrezze, 381 F.2d 231, 237-38 (2d Cir. 1967) (finding that a review of New York case law indicates that the presumption favoring the validity of the second marriage varies in force with the attendant facts and circumstances). The court in Dolan noted that the presumption for validating subsequent ceremonial marriages in New York operates to effectuate “a particular public policy such as upholding legitimacy, favoring the participation in the decedent’s estate of one who lived with him as his spouse, and preserving the validity of a marriage where no strong public policy would be served by doing otherwise.” Dolan, 381 F.2d at 237; see also Boyd v. Heckler, 588 F.Supp. 31, 34-35 (E.D.N.Y 1984)(stating that “[c]hief among the equities to be considered is whether there are children of the second marriage” in holding that testimonial evidence, absence of divorce records, and no children in the second marriage were sufficient to rebut the presumption of validity of the second marriage for purposes of awarding widow’s social security benefits) Accordingly, Claimant’s marriage to the NH is presumptively valid under New York law.

      However, it is also well-established that a marriage is void if contracted by a person whose spouse by a former marriage is living and that former marriage has not legally been dissolved. See POMS PR 05005.035, Gonzalez v. Gonzalez, 228 N.Y.S.2d 4, 5 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1962). New York Domestic Relations Law states that “a marriage is absolutely void if contracted by a person whose husband or wife by a former marriage is living....” N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 6 (McKinney 2015). Furthermore, because a void marriage exists as a legal nullity, no judgment or judicial declaration of nullity is required. U.S. v. Diogo, 320 F.2d 898, 907 (2d Cir. 1963); see also McCullen v. McCullen, 162 A.D. 599, 602, 147 N.Y.S. 1069, 1071-72 (1st Dept. 1914). Thus, the presumptive validity of Claimant’s marriage to the NH may be rebutted, where here, Claimant has admitted that she was married to Mr. P~ , never sought a divorce from Mr. P~ , Mr. P~ was alive at the time of her marriage ceremony with the NH, and she was listed as Mr. P~ ’s surviving spouse on Mr. P~ ’s death certificate.

      Here, we do not believe a New York court would find that the balance of equities tips in favor of validating Claimant’s marriage to the NH. Plaintiff testified that she never sought a divorce from Mr. P~ . Further, no particular public policy, such as preserving the legitimacy of children, would be served by validating Claimant’s marriage to the NH, where Claimant and the NH have no children together , but Claimant has a child from her first marriage. See Dolan, 381 F.2d at 237. Additionally, the NH is still living, so the policy of favoring the participation of the putative spouse in the decedent’s estate would not yet be relevant. Further, voiding the second marriage will not prevent Claimant from obtaining benefits, as is discussed below.

    2. Claimant’s Relationship to the NH as his Wife Cannot Be Established Through a Common-Law Marriage

      New York does not recognize common-law marriages entered into in its own state. See Baron v. Suissa, 906 N.Y.S.2d 50, 51 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept. 2010) (citing N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 11). Accordingly, Claimant cannot alternatively argue that while not validly married to the NH prior to or after Mr. P~ ’s death, she had nonetheless subsequently entered into a common-law marriage with the NH under the laws of New York.

  4. Claimant’s Relationship to the NH as his Wife May Be Established Through a Deemed Marriage

    Another way under the Act that Claimant’s relationship as a wife of the insured NH can be established is via a deemed marriage. Under section 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act, where a woman and a worker went through a marriage ceremony which resulted in a purported marriage between them, such purported marriage may be considered a valid marriage for purposes of section 216(b) if the woman in good faith went through a marriage ceremony with the worker not knowing of a legal impediment which made the marriage invalid and the legal impediment resulted from the continued existence of a prior marriage of either party, arose out of the dissolution of the prior marriage, or from a procedural defect in the woman's ceremonial marriage to the worker; and she was living in the same household with the worker when her application was filed. 20 C.F.R. § 404.346; POMS GN 00305.055; Social Security Ruling (SSR) 67-58.

    POMS GN 00305.055C lays out the steps the Agency must take to determine whether a relationship is a deemed marriage. First, for a ceremonial marriage, the Agency must obtain proof of the marriage. Here, Claimant and the NH have provided proof of a marriage ceremony. Next, to determine good faith, the Agency must obtain signed statements from all involved parties, including the claimant and the NH, and the prior spouse if still living. Claimant’s statement must include why she believed her marriage ceremony was valid at the time of the ceremony, what she knew of the prior marriage’s dissolution, and why she did not believe any restrictions for remarrying applied. The NH’s statement must include information similar in nature to Claimant’s statement. Here, there are signed statements in which Claimant has repeatedly stated that that she did not believe her marriage to Mr. P~ to be valid. There is also evidence that Claimant denied having been married on her marriage license and listed her

    maiden name D~ as her surname. However, Claimant not only used the last name P~ to adopt her grandchildren, but also used it at the time she applied for wife’s insurance benefits. It is unclear why she would use that name if she thought her previous marriage was invalid. Additionally, none of the statements indicate what NH knew at the time of his marriage ceremony to Claimant about her previous marriage to Mr. P~ . In addition to these factors, the agency must consider Claimant’s age, education, and experience when determining good faith. POMS GN 00305.055C.

    Accordingly, an adjudicator can establish a deemed marriage, assuming the requisite factors are met. Given the additional development issues required, we defer judgment to you as to whether the required factors for a deemed marriage were met.

CONCLUSION

In sum, it is our opinion that Claimant may be entitled to wife’s benefits on the NH’s account, based on a deemed marriage to the NH, assuming Claimant meets all other eligibility requirements for wife’s benefits. However, before finding a deemed marriage between Claimant and the NH, we recommend further development of the record on the issue of whether Claimant acted in good faith in entering into marriage with the NH.

B. PR 10-069 Validity of Marriage in North Carolina Number Holder – F~ Claimant – B~

DATE: March 8, 2010

1. SYLLABUS

Under North Carolina law, underage marriages are at most voidable and are considered valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. In this case where the claimant married the number holder prior to obtaining the legal age of consent, children were born during the marriage, and Claimant and NH were residing together at the time of NH’s death, the marriage between Claimant and NH cannot be declared void. In addition, the parties ratified the marriage by living together after Claimant reached the age of consent. Therefore, Claimant and NH were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You asked whether the marriage between the claimant and the number holder is void under North Carolina law because the claimant had not attained age eighteen, the legal age of consent to marry in North Carolina, at the time of the marriage.

OPINION

We believe the claimant and the number holder were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

BACKGROUND

B~ (Claimant) and F~, the number holder (NH), participated in a marriage ceremony on July XX, XXXX, in North Carolina. The marriage license and certificate indicate Claimant was eighteen at the time of her marriage, but Claimant admits she and NH ran away to get married and she was only seventeen at the time. Claimant reported that children were born during the marriage. Claimant obtained a judgment granting her a divorce from NH on January XX, XXXX, in North Carolina. In granting the divorce, the judge found that Claimant and NH were lawfully married. NH died on September XX, XXXX, and was a resident of Virginia at the time of his death.

Claimant married W~ on December XX, XXXX, in Virginia. That marriage ended with Mr. G~’s death on May XX, XX. Claimant currently receives widow’s insurance benefits on Mr. G~’s record, and is now seeking divorced widow’s insurance benefits on the NH’s record because the benefit amount would be higher.

DISCUSSION

Under the Social Security Act (Act), a claimant may be eligible for widow’s insurance benefits if she is the “surviving divorced wife” of an individual who died fully-insured. See Act § 202(e)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336 (2009). “Surviving divorced wife” means “a woman divorced from an individual who has died, but only if she had been married to the individual for a period of 10 years immediately before the date the divorce became effective.” Act § 216(d)(2); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.336(a). Claimant’s alleged marriage to NH lasted for more than ten years immediately prior to the day of the divorce judgment. Therefore, if Claimant and NH were validly married, Claimant would be NH’s “surviving divorced spouse” for the purposes of widow’s insurance benefits. See Act §§ 202(e)(1), 216(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a).

According to the information provided, Claimant and NH participated in a marriage ceremony, and were divorced, in North Carolina and NH resided in Virginia at the time of his death. The Program Operations Manual System (POMS) explains that a divorce presupposes that the marriage terminated by that divorce was a valid marriage; thus, proof of divorce usually constitutes evidence of the validity of the divorced spouses’ marriage. See POMS RS 00202.075(A)(2)(a). However, proof of validity of the marriage is required when “information raises a reasonable doubt of the validity of the marriage.” See POMS RS 00202.075(A)(2)(b).

When determining the validity of a marriage, SSA generally looks to the laws of the state where the insured had a permanent home when he died. See Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.336(a)(1), 404.344, 404.345 (2009). In this case, Virginia law controls because NH resided in Virginia at the time of his death. This opinion does not address whether the out-of-state marriage between Claimant and NH is valid under the laws of Virginia, nor does it address whether Claimant was married to NH for purposes of the Act (which requires an application of Virginia law). The only issue addressed here is whether the marriage is void or voidable under North Carolina law.

Under North Carolina law, a valid marriage is created by the consent of a male and female person “who may lawfully marry” to take each other as husband and wife expressed in the presence of each other and in the presence of a minister or a magistrate, Claimant and NH were married by G. G. N~, Justice of Peace. The office of justice of the peace was later abolished in each county upon the establishment of a district court therein. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-176 (2009) (enacted in 1965). or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-1 (2009); see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-6 (2009) (solemnization without marriage license unlawful; at least two witnesses to marriage ceremony required). North Carolina law provides that all marriages “between a male person under 16 years of age and any female, or between a female person under 16 years of age and any male . . . shall be void.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3 (2009). The statutory language in effect at the time Claimant and NH were married is consistent with the current language. See Ivery v. Ivery, 129 S.E.2d 457, 461 (N.C. 1963) (discussing the statutory language in effect in the 1960’s). However, “[n]o marriage followed by co-habitation and the birth of issue shall be declared void after the death of either of the parties for any of the causes stated in this section North Carolina law also prohibits marriages between persons 1) nearer of kin than first cousins, or between double first cousins; 2) either of whom has a husband or wife living; 3) either of whom is physically impotent; and 4) either of whom is at the time incapable of contracting from want of will or understanding. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3. except for bigamy,” and “[n]o marriage by persons either of whom may be under 16 years of age, and otherwise competent to marry, shall be declared void . . . when a child shall have been born to the parties unless such child at the time of the action to annul shall be dead.” Id. Given these exceptions, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that “the word ‘void,’ used in the statute, will be construed to mean ‘voidable,’ thus rendering the marriage valid until it has been declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction in an action directly attacking the validity of the marriage.” Ivery v. Ivery, 129 S.E.2d 457, 462 (N.C. 1963); see also Fulton v. Vickery, 326 S.E.2d 354, 358 (N.C. Ct. App. 1985) (“only bigamous marriages have thus far been declared absolutely void”); N.C. Op. Att’y Gen. Op., 2001 WL 1712684, at *1 (Oct. 9, 2001) (advisory opinion noting that pursuant to § 51-3 underage marriages are merely voidable).

Furthermore, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that where a marriage is voidable because one of the parties was underage at the time of the marriage, the “marriage may be ratified by the subsequent conduct of the parties in recognition of the marriage.” Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462. In other words, the parties may ratify the marriage by living together after the underage participant reached the age of consent. See Sawyer v. Slack, 146 S.E. 864, 865 (N.C. 1929); see also N.C. Op. Att’y Gen. Op., 2001 WL 1712684, at *1 (questioning whether underage marriages can be declared invalid when ratified by cohabitation after the underage participant reached the age of consent).

Under North Carolina law, the underage marriage between Claimant and NH was at most voidable. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3; Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462; see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-2(a1) (2009) (parental consent required for marriage of persons over sixteen and under eighteen). We do not have sufficient information to determine if Claimant and NH ratified their marriage by residing together after Claimant reached the age of consent. However, as discussed above, voidable marriages are valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction in an action directly attacking the validity of the marriage. In this case, we have no evidence that anyone attacked the validity of the marriage. Rather, in granting their divorce, a North Carolina court specifically found Claimant and NH were “lawfully married.” Therefore, Claimant and NH were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

CONCLUSION

We believe Claimant and NH were lawfully married under North Carolina law. However, we express no opinion regarding the validity of the marriage under Virginia law. If you have any questions regarding Virginia law, or about how Virginia law should be applied under the Act, please contact the Office of the Regional Chief Counsel, Region III.
Mary A. S~
Regional Chief Counsel
By:_____________

Jessica V. J~

Assistant Regional Counsel

C. PR 10-068 Validity of Marriage in North Carolina Number Holder – C~ Claimant – S~

DATE: March 8, 2010

1. SYLLABUS

Under North Carolina law, underage marriages are at most voidable and are considered valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. In this case where the claimant married the number holder prior to obtaining the legal age of consent, children were born during the marriage, and Claimant and NH were residing together at the time of NH’s death, the marriage between Claimant and NH cannot be declared void. In addition, the parties ratified the marriage by living together after Claimant reached the age of consent. Therefore, Claimant and NH were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You asked whether the marriage between the claimant and the number holder is void under North Carolina law because the claimant had not attained age eighteen, the legal age of consent to marry in North Carolina, at the time of the marriage.

OPINION

We believe the claimant and the number holder were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

BACKGROUND

Shelvey J~ (Claimant) and C~, the number holder (NH), participated in a marriage ceremony on April XX, XXXX, in North Carolina. According to Social Security Administration (SSA) records, Claimant and NH had children during the marriage. NH died on February XX, XXXX, while a resident of Virginia. The marriage license and certificate indicate Claimant’s date of birth as October XX, XXXX, making her eighteen years of age at the time of the marriage ceremony. When Claimant applied for widow’s insurance benefits on December 1, 2009, she reported her date of birth as October XX, XXXX. Thus, Claimant was actually fifteen years of age at the time of her marriage ceremony. Claimant alleges she had parental consent for the marriage, but presented no proof of this claim. She claimed she contacted the court house to obtain a copy of the consent her mother allegedly signed, but was told the records were destroyed after five years. Claimant also stated she did not know her date of birth was incorrect on the marriage license.

DISCUSSION

Under the Social Security Act (Act), a claimant may be eligible for widow’s insurance benefits if she is the “widow” of an individual who died a fully-insured individual. See Act § 202(e)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a) (2009). “Widow” means the “surviving wife” of an individual. See Act § 216(c)(1); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.335(a), 404.344 (2009). An individual may be the “surviving wife” of an individual if she is the mother of the deceased individual’s son or daughter or was married to the deceased individual for a period of not less than nine months immediately prior to the day he died. See Act § 216(c)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a)(1), (a)(3). Claimant’s alleged marriage to NH lasted more than nine months immediately prior to the day on which he died, and the evidence indicates she is the mother of his children. Therefore, if Claimant and NH were validly married, she would be his “widow” for the purposes of widow’s insurance benefits. See Act §§ 202(e)(1), 216(c)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a).

Generally, SSA looks to the laws of the state where the insured had a permanent home when he died to determine whether a claimant and the deceased insured individual were validly married. See Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.344, 404.345 (2009). According to the information provided, Claimant and NH were married in North Carolina, but NH resided in Virginia at the time of his death. Therefore, Virginia law controls when determining the validity of the marriage. This opinion does not address whether the out-of-state marriage between Claimant and NH is valid under the laws of Virginia, nor whether Claimant can ultimately qualify as NH’s spouse under the Act (since that determination will require an application of Virginia law). The only issue addressed here is whether the marriage is valid under North Carolina law.

Under North Carolina law, a valid marriage is created by the consent of a male and female person “who may lawfully marry” to take each other as husband and wife expressed in the presence of each other and in the presence of a minister or a magistrate, Claimant and NH were married by G. G. N~, Justice of Peace. The office of justice of the peace was later abolished in each county upon the establishment of a district court therein. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-176 (2009) (enacted in 1965). or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-1 (2009); see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-6 (2009) (solemnization without marriage license unlawful; at least two witnesses to marriage ceremony required). North Carolina law provides that all marriages “between a male person under 16 years of age and any female, or between a female person under 16 years of age and any male . . . shall be void.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3 (2009). The statutory language in effect at the time Claimant and NH were married is consistent with the current language. See Ivery v. Ivery, 129 S.E.2d 457, 461 (N.C. 1963) (discussing the statutory language in effect in the 1960’s). However, “[n]o marriage followed by co-habitation and the birth of issue shall be declared void after the death of either of the parties for any of the causes stated in this section North Carolina law also prohibits marriages between persons 1) nearer of kin than first cousins, or between double first cousins; 2) either of whom has a husband or wife living; 3) either of whom is physically impotent; and 4) either of whom is at the time incapable of contracting from want of will or understanding. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3. except for bigamy,” and “[n]o marriage by persons either of whom may be under 16 years of age, and otherwise competent to marry, shall be declared void . . . when a child shall have been born to the parties unless such child at the time of the action to annul shall be dead.” Id. Given these exceptions, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that “the word ‘void,’ used in the statute, will be construed to mean ‘voidable,’ thus rendering the marriage valid until it has been declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction in an action directly attacking the validity of the marriage.” Ivery v. Ivery, 129 S.E.2d 457, 462 (N.C. 1963); see also Fulton v. Vickery, 326 S.E.2d 354, 358 (N.C. Ct. App. 1985) (“only bigamous marriages have thus far been declared absolutely void”); N.C. Op. Att’y Gen., 2001 WL 1712684, at *1 (Oct. 9, 2001) (advisory opinion noting that pursuant to § 51-3 underage marriages are merely voidable).

Furthermore, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that where a marriage is voidable because one of the parties was underage at the time of the marriage, the “marriage may be ratified by the subsequent conduct of the parties in recognition of the marriage.” Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462. In other words, the parties may ratify the marriage where, as here, they lived together after the underage participant reached the age of consent. See Sawyer v. Slack, 146 S.E. 864, 865 (N.C. 1929); see also N.C. Op. Att’y Gen., 2001 WL 1712684, at *1 (questioning whether underage marriages can be declared invalid when ratified by cohabitation after the underage participant reached the age of consent).

Under North Carolina law, underage marriages are at most voidable and are considered valid until declared otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3; Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462. According to the information provided, children were born during the marriage, and Claimant and NH were residing together at the time of NH’s death. Thus, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-3, the marriage between Claimant and NH cannot be declared void. In addition, the parties ratified the marriage by living together after Claimant reached the age of consent. See Ivery, 129 S.E.2d at 462; Sawyer, 146 S.E. at 865. Therefore, Claimant and NH were lawfully married under North Carolina law.

CONCLUSION

We believe Claimant and NH were lawfully married under North Carolina law. However, we express no opinion regarding the validity of the marriage under Virginia law. If you have any questions regarding Virginia law, or about how Virginia law should be applied under the Act, please contact the Office of the Regional Chief Counsel, Region III.
Mary A. S~
Regional Chief Counsel
By:_____________

Jessica V. J~

Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:

[1]

The Center for Program Support (CPS) provided this office with the following documents: Claimant’s Application for Wife’s Insurance Benefits; SSA-795 statements from Claimant and the NH; SSA-5002 Report of Contact; Marriage Certificate for Claimant and Mr. P~ ; Marriage Certificate for Claimant and the NH; Death Certificate for Mr. P~ ; SSA-3 signed by the NH. This opinion is based on the facts as presented.

[2]

In a June 20, 2013 statement to SSA, Claimant indicated that while her birth certificate stated that she was born D~, she had always gone by the name D~.

[3]

In June 20, 2013 statements to SSA, Claimant and the NH stated that they married on November XX, XXXX, and on July 2, 2013 statements to SSA, Claimant and the NH stated that they married on November XX, XXXX. However, their marriage certificate indicates that the correct date of their marriage is November XX, XXXX.

[4]

According to Claimant, she also went by the name P~ in order to adopt her grandchildren.

[5]

Claimant and Mr. P~ were married by a justice of the peace. The office of justice of the peace was later abolished in each county upon the establishment of a district court therein. See N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7A-176 (West 2015).


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1505205036
PR 05205.036 - North Carolina - 09/25/2015
Batch run: 09/25/2015
Rev:09/25/2015