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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Haila N. K~
Assistant Regional Counsel