PR 05405.027 Mississippi

A. PR 10-156 Validity of a Marriage under Mississippi Law Where Marriage License not Returned and Recorded Number Holder – Ozell E~ Beneficiary – Donell E~

DATE: September 29, 2010

1. SYLLABUS

Mississippi law indicates a marriage is valid if the parties obtain a marriage license in accordance with the law and undergo a marriage ceremony performed by a person authorized to solemnize marriages. Failure to return or record a marriage license will not render a marriage invalid.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

You have asked whether Mississippi would recognize the beneficiary's purported marriage where the couple, both Mississippi residents, obtained a marriage license and took part in a marriage ceremony, but the marriage license was not returned and recorded and no officiate signed the marriage license or certificate.

OPINION

We believe the marriage would be valid in Mississippi. The failure to return and record the marriage license and the omission of the officiate’s signature on the license does not invalidate the marriage.

BACKGROUND

Donell E~ (Beneficiary) receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and child’s insurance benefits as a disabled child (CDB) on the earnings record of Ozell E~, the number holder (NH). In June 2010, Lonell E~, Beneficiary's brother and representative payee, reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that he had heard a rumor that Beneficiary was married . Documents show Beneficiary and Sheila G. M~ (S.M.) applied for a marriage license on June 5, 2008, at the Tippah County, Mississippi Circuit Court Clerk’s office. The Circuit Clerk issued and signed a Marriage License and a Marriage License and Certificate. SSA verified with the Circuit Clerk that Beneficiary and S.M. obtained the license, but the license was not returned for recording. S.M. sent the marriage license to SSA. The bottom removable portion of the marriage license is attached and lacks an officiate’s signature. The certificate of marriage includes the names of Beneficiary and S.M. and the date of July 26, 2008, but the certificate is otherwise not completed.

In his statement to SSA, Beneficiary's brother reported he asked Beneficiary about the marriage, and Beneficiary stated he participated in a ceremony in July 2008. Beneficiary also reportedly told his brother that he did not mention the marriage because he believed he was not really married because S.M.'s father never filed the marriage license. Beneficiary's brother stated Beneficiary lived with him and S.M. came to visit Beneficiary. Beneficiary's brother also reported that Beneficiary and S.M. had dated for years but had never lived together as a married couple, and she did not contribute to their household expenses.

Beneficiary reported to SSA that he participated in a religious marriage ceremony between himself and S.M. on July 26, 2008; he remembered signing a paper and saying vows. He thought the person performing the ceremony was a pastor, but he did not know him. Beneficiary stated S.M.'s father never filed the marriage license with the courthouse. Beneficiary reported he called two courthouses and they could not find a record of the marriage. Beneficiary stated he did not think he was legally married.

Beneficiary also reported that S.M. had stayed with him off and on for ten years, but they have never lived as husband and wife. He stated he thinks S.M. lives with her mother and sometimes stays with her sister, who is her representative payee. When contacted by SSA, S.M.'s sister stated that S.M. primarily resided with her. S.M.'s sister reported she was aware that a religious ceremony took place in 2008, and she thought Beneficiary and S.M. were legally married at that time. She also reported she had seen the marriage license but thought it looked odd because the bottom portion of the license had not been removed.

DISCUSSION

An individual may be eligible for CDB on the earnings record of an insured individual if, among other conditions, the individual is unmarried. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(4), 404.352(b)(4) (2010). An individual's marital status may also affect his or her eligibility for SSI or the amount of SSI he or she receives. See Act § 1611(a)-(c); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.202, 416.410, 416.412, 416.920, 416.432, 416.1160, 416.1802, 416.1802 (2010). Generally, SSA looks to the laws of the State where the parties were domiciled to determine the validity of a marriage. See Act §§ 216(h)(1)(A)(i), 1614(d); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.345, 416.1806(a)(1) (2010). The information provided indicates Beneficiary and S.M. are residents of Mississippi. Therefore, we look to Mississippi law to determine whether their purported marriage was valid.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi has recognized that the law favors marriage and “will indulge every reasonable presumption in favor of the validity thereof.” Walker v. Matthews, 3 So. 2d 820, 823-24 (Miss. 1941) (internal citations omitted). If a marriage is established by evidence or admission, the burden of adducing evidence to the contrary rests on the party who attacks it. Id.; see Blackwell v. Magee, 531 So. 2d 1193, 1195 (Miss. 1988) (the law will not declare a marriage a nullity upon anything less than clear and certain testimony, once solemnized according to the forms of law). Although Beneficiary has alleged his marriage is not valid, Beneficiary did not provide sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that his marriage to S.M. is valid.

Mississippi law does not directly address the issue of whether the failure to return and record a marriage license renders a marriage invalid; however, the relevant statutes and analogous case law support a conclusion that the failure to return and record a marriage license does not affect the validity of a marriage. Mississippi statutory law provides that no marriage contracted after April 5, 1956 (when the state no longer recognized common law marriage), will be valid unless the contracting parties obtain a marriage license as required by law and undergo a marriage ceremony performed by a person or entity authorized by law to solemnize marriages. See Miss. Code Ann. § 93-1-15(1) (2010); South Central Heating & Plumbing Co. v. Campbell, 219 So. 2d 140, 142 (Miss. 1969); Irwin v. Peals, 33 So. 2d 298, 299 (Miss. 1948) (holding marriage invalid where no evidence was introduced that a license was issued). Failure to comply with both prerequisites will render the purported marriage absolutely void, but the statute does not explicitly state that purported marriages complying with the prerequisites are always valid. See Miss. Code Ann. § 93-1-15(1).

Beneficiary admitted he participated in a religious marriage ceremony between himself and S.M. on July 26, 2008, signed a paper, and said vows. He thought the person performing the ceremony was a pastor, but he did not know him. In his statement to SSA, Beneficiary's brother reported he asked Beneficiary about the marriage, and Beneficiary stated he participated in a ceremony in July 2008. When contacted by SSA, S. M.'s sister stated that she was aware that a religious ceremony took place in 2008, and she thought Beneficiary and S.M. were legally married at that time. The information provided contains no relevant evidence to disprove the validity of the marriage ceremony. Claimant does not dispute that the marriage was solemnized in accordance with state law. See Blackwell, 531 So. 2d at 1196 (refusing to find some hard-edged line of demarcation prescribing minimum qualifications for one authorized to solemnize rites of matrimony under Mississippi law and holding valid a ceremony performed by minister of Universal Life Church).

Documents show Beneficiary and S.M. applied for a marriage license on June 5, 2008, at the Tippah County, Mississippi Circuit Court Clerk’s office. The Circuit Clerk issued and signed a Marriage License and a Marriage License and Certificate. SSA verified with the Circuit Clerk that Beneficiary and S.M. obtained the license, but the license was not returned for recording. S.M. sent the marriage license to SSA. The bottom removable portion of the marriage license is attached and lacks an officiate’s signature. The certificate of marriage includes the names of Beneficiary and S.M. and the date of July 26, 2008, but the certificate is otherwise not completed.

Mississippi law provides “[n]o irregularity in the issuance of or omission in the license shall invalidate any marriage . . . .” Miss. Code Ann. § 93-1-13 (2010); see Zeigler v. Zeigler, 164 So. 768, 770 (Miss. 1935) (recognizing in case where father obtained marriage license instead of contracting parties, that the chief desire of the courts is to reach the real intention of the legislature, and “to adopt that interpretation which will meet the real meaning, though such interpretation may be beyond or within, wider or narrower, than the mere letter of the statute”). As the Mississippi Supreme Court has observed: “Unthought of results must be avoided if possible, especially if injustice follows, and unwise purpose will not be imputed to the Legislature when a reasonable construction is possible.” Zeigler, 164 So. at 770. The court declined to invalidate the marriage based upon a technical error. See id. These statutes and cases suggest that the failure to return or record a marriage license amounts to no more than a technical error and will not render a marriage invalid.

Mississippi law does address the obligation to return or record a marriage license and provides consequences for the failure to do so: “The person who performs the marriage ceremony shall complete and sign the section of the marriage license relating to the ceremony, and shall return the record to the circuit clerk who issued the license within five (5) days after the ceremony.” Miss. Code Ann. § 41-57-48(3) (2010). The only express sanctions for noncompliance are directed at the official(s) responsible for reporting, recording, or filing the license. See Miss. Code Ann. § 41-57-59 (2010). Neither provision is aimed at the contracting parties.

When Mississippi statutes or case law does not directly address an issue, Mississippi courts may look to case law from other states for guidance. See, e.g., Cucos, Inc. v. McDaniel, 938 So. 2d 238, 243 (Miss. 2006) (recognizing “the use of other jurisdictions' jurisprudence as guidance when this Court has not definitively ruled on the issue. Decisions from other jurisdictions may have persuasive authority if well reasoned and promotive of justice”); Doleac v. Real Estate Professionals, L.L.C., 911 So. 2d 496, 501-06 (Miss. 2005) (analyzing and concurring with other state and circuit decisions in a case of first impression); Griffith v. Gulf Refining Co., 61 So. 2d 306, 307 (Miss. 1952) (noting the court is not bound by decisions of courts of other jurisdictions on similar questions, but the court may consider the decisions and such decisions may have persuasive authority, provided the decisions do not conflict with Mississippi public policy); see also Blackwell, 531 So. 2d at 1196 (“The experience in other states in matters such as this is always of value”).

Courts in states with statutes similar to the Mississippi statutes described above have refused to invalidate a marriage for failure to return or record a marriage license, noting that if the legislature intended such marriages to be invalid, the legislature could have done so by statute . See, e.g., State of Arizona v. Guadagni, 178 P.3d 473, 476 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2008) (observing such provisions “suggest that the legislature intended to enforce the recording requirement by creating incentives for the relevant official to carry out that duty-rather than by invalidating the marriage altogether, a sanction that would under most circumstances, impose significant legal consequences on the marrying parties for a mere ministerial oversight”); Stringer v. Sheffield, 451 So. 2d 320, 323 (Ala. Civ. App. 1984) (refusing to declare a marriage void because the code sections do not declare a marriage void when the certificate is not filed, “for, had the legislature intended such a severe and harsh result, it would have expressly pronounced the invalidity of such marriages”); Accounts Mgmt., Inc. v. Litchfield, 576 N.W.2d 233, 235 (S.D. 1998) (stating the relevant statutes did not require action or compliance by the parties to the marriage “we cannot imagine our legislators intended that the mere act of recording would be necessary to ‘perfect’ the marital relationship as if akin to a UCC [Uniform Commercial Code] filing”); 52 Am.Jur. 2d Marriage § 35 (2010) (stating it has been held that a marriage is not rendered void by the fact that the license was not registered); see also Aghili v. Saadatnejadi, 958 S.W.2d 784, 788 (Tenn. Ct. App 1997) (marriage not invalid when license filed late).

As noted above, Mississippi law indicate a marriage is valid if the parties obtain a marriage license in accordance with the law and undergo a marriage ceremony performed by a person authorized to solemnize marriages. See Miss. Code Ann. § 93-1-15. Similar to the statutes involved in the cases from other states, Mississippi law does not penalize the parties to the marriage if the marriage license is not recorded. Instead, the person who performs the marriage has the duty to return the marriage certificate for recording, and he or she would subject to any sanctions. See Miss. Code Ann. §§ 41-57-48, 41-57-59. In light of the analogous cases discussed above and Mississippi's general presumption of the validity of marriages, we conclude that the failure to return and record the marriage does not invalidate Beneficiary’s marriage.

CONCLUSION

We believe Mississippi would recognize Beneficiary’s marriage to S.M. as valid. Therefore, Claimant would be married for the purposes of determining his eligibility for CDB and his eligibility for or amount of SSI.

Mary A. S~

Regional Chief Counsel

By:__________

Haila N. K~

Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 85-025 Validity of Marriage Ceremony Where No License Was Obtained - Mississippi - Phung T. T~ (DWE)

DATE: October 11, 1985

1. SYLLABUS

Where a couple failed to obtain a marriage license and were married in a Buddhist religious ceremony in Biloxi, Mississippi, we held that the marriage was not valid under Mississippi statutes which provide that the licensing requirement is mandatory.

(Phung T. T~- ~ - RAIV [A~], to ARC, Progs., Atl., 10/11/85)

Compliance with license statutes is essential to the validity of a marriage in the State of Mississippi.

(Phung T. T~ - ~ - RAIV [A~], to ARC, Progs., Atl., 10/11/85)

2. OPINION

The claimant, Man T. T~, married the deceased wage earner, Phung T. T~, in a Buddhist ceremonial marriage in Biloxi, Mississippi, in August 1984. The couple did not obtain a marriage license for fear that Man T. T~ would not pass the blood test. They lived together as husband and wife until his death in February 1985. Your office has raised a question as to the validity of marriage.

Generally, compliance with license statutes is not essential to the validity of a marriage in the absence of a statutory provision expressly making it essential. See, B., James H~ - [Chi - AFA] - 11/30/44; S~, Will

- [N.O. AFA] - H~ to N.O. AO, 06/22/45. See, also, Y~, Sol (DWE) - ~- RAIV [A~] - to ARC, Progs., Atl., 06/17/85.

However, Mississippi statutes make compliance with the licensing requirements mandatory. Section 93-1-15 of the Mississippi Code Annotated provides that:

(1) No marriage contracted after April 5, 1956 shall be valid unless the contracting parties shall have obtained a marriage license as otherwise required by law, and unless also the marriage, after such license shall have been duly issued therefor, shall have been performed by or before any person, religious society, institution, or organization authorized by Sections 93-1-17 and 93-1-19 to solemnize marriages. Failure in any case to comply with both prerequisites aforesaid, which shall also be construed as mandatory and not merely directory, shall render the purported marriage absolutely void and any children born as a result thereof illegitimate.

Furthermore, Section 93-1-19 also provides, in pertinent part, that:

It shall be lawful for a pastor of any religious society in this state to join together in marriage such persons of the society to whom a marriage license has been issued, according to the rules and customs established by the society .... (Emphasis added.)

Based on the foregoing, it is our opinion that the State of Mississippi would not recognize the ceremonial marriage of the Trans as valid.


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http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1505405027
PR 05405.027 - Mississippi - 10/06/2010
Batch run: 10/06/2010
Rev:10/06/2010