PR 05405.028 Missouri

A. PR 03-098 Status of Valid Marriage Relationship for Possible Termination of Young Mother's Benefits Insured

DATE: March 3, 2003

1. SYLLABUS

The parties' marriage, for want of other defects, would be upheld as valid, regardless of whether the marriage was registered in Missouri, because the parties complied with the laws of the Cayman Islands for validly solemnizing a marriage. Therefore, the mother's insurance beneficiary entered into a valid marriage under Missouri law.

2. OPINION

You asked for our legal opinion of whether a beneficiary's failure to register a foreign marriage with the state of Missouri, the state in which the beneficiary was domiciled at the time of the marriage, rendered the marriage void for purposes of determining her continuing entitlement to Mother's benefits.

In your memorandum, you indicated that Sherry L. B~ currently receives Young Mother's benefits based upon the earnings record of Tomlinson L. C~. Ms. B~ reported to the Agency that, on July 20, 1998, she obtained a marriage license from the government of the Cayman Islands and participated in a marriage ceremony with Ricky J. P~ aboard a cruise ship anchored within the jurisdiction of that government. The ceremony was performed by Pastor Nathan A. E~, a Marriage Officer authorized to solemnize marriages in the Cayman Islands. The marriage license was signed by Ms. B~, Mr. P~, Pastor E~, and two witnesses. At the time of the ceremony, Ms. B~ and Mr. P~ cohabited in Milan, Missouri, as they had since June 1994. Following the ceremony, Ms. B~ and Mr. P~ returned to Missouri and lived together as husband and wife. Ms. B~ reported that, prior to the Cayman Islands ceremony, neither she nor Mr. P~ were married or otherwise legally prohibited from entering into a valid marriage. She also explained that their relationship was solemnized to aid her adoption of a nephew. It was her understanding that she was required to register her marriage with the state of Missouri within 90 days of returning from the Cayman Islands, but neither she nor Mr. P~ did so.

Initially, it is important to note that the requirement of obtaining and recording a marriage license in the state of Missouri applies only to marriages solemnized in the state. See Yun v. Yun, 908 S.W.2d 787, 791(Mo. App. 1995); Mo. Ann. Stat. § 451.040. Therefore, Ms. B~'s failure to record her foreign marriage in the state of Missouri is not relevant to the determination of whether the marriage is valid.

In Missouri, the validity of a foreign marriage is determined by the law of the place where it was contracted. Taylor v. Taylor, 355 S.W.2d 383, 383 (Mo. App. 1962); see also 52 Am.Jur.2d Marriage § 80 (1970). However, Missouri courts are not statutorily bound to take judicial notice of the laws of other countries. See Mo. Ann. Stat. § 490.120. Although not required by statute, Missouri courts generally recognize foreign marriages validly solemnized pursuant to the laws of the foreign government as a matter of comity. See James v. James, 45 S.W.3d 458, 462-63 (Mo. App. 2001); Enlow v. Fire Protection Systems, Inc., 803 S.W.2d 148, 150-51 (Mo. App. 1991). See also In re S.M., 938 S.W.2d 910, 919 (Mo. App. 1997) (“[T]he doctrine of comity is a rule of voluntary consent.”). The existence of the foreign marriage may be proved by direct, circumstantial, or presumptive evidence and by documentary or parol evidence. See Thomson v. Thomson, 236 Mo.App. 1223, 163 S.W.2d 792, 796 (1942). Direct testimony of one of the parties may serve as proof of the existence of the marriage. Vanderson v. Vanderson, 668 S.W.2d 167, 171 (Mo. App. 1984). Therefore, the validity of Ms. B~'s marriage must be analyzed pursuant to the laws of the Cayman Islands, a territory governed by the laws of the United Kingdom.

Our research has revealed that, pursuant to the laws of the United Kingdom, in the Cayman Islands, a valid marriage of non-residents must be predicated upon a special marriage license granted by the governor. See Cayman Islands Government Portal (visited December 3, 2002), http://www.gov.ky; Marriage (Amendment) Law of 1983 (United Kingdom). Pursuant to the Marriage (Amendment) Law of 1994, no waiting period is required after the issuance of the special license. See id. To apply for a special license, applicants must be 18 years of age (or 16 years of age with the consent of a legal guardian) and the parties must affirm that they are free to be married. Id. Additionally, all marriage ceremonies must be attended by a marriage officer and two witnesses and must take place between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., in a location with open doors. Id.

The documentary and parole evidence submitted for our analysis shows that Ms. B~ and Mr. P~ complied with the requirements of the laws of the Cayman Islands for validly solemnizing a marriage in that jurisdiction. As required, Ms. B~ and Mr. P~ obtained a special license permitting the solemnization of their marriage in the Cayman Islands. Both were free to marry. Pastor E~ was a marriage officer authorized to solemnize marriage ceremonies in the Cayman Islands. See id. Ms. B~ reported that Pastor E~ and two witnesses were present for the ceremony. Assuming that both Ms. B~ and Mr. P~ were more than 18 years of age and that the ceremony took place between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. in a location with open doors, it would appear that the marriage was validly solemnized pursuant to the laws of the Cayman Islands.

Because it appears that Ms. B~'s marriage would be recognized as a valid marriage in the Cayman Islands, it is likely that a Missouri court would recognize the marriage as well. See Yun, 908 S.W.2d at 791 (citing Forbis v. Forbis, 274 S.W.2d 800, 806 (Mo. App. 1955) (In Missouri, the presumption in favor of marriage is very strong.). See also James, 45 S.W.3d at 462-63; Enlow, 803 S.W.2d at 150-51 (Eastern District of Missouri found “strong circumstantial, presumptive, and parole evidence supporting the fact of a marriage” based upon testimony and documentary evidence indicating that a ceremonial marriage took place in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the parties signed a marriage register, the ceremony was performed by a minister and in the presence of witnesses, the couple lived together as husband and wife following the ceremony, they opened a joint checking account, and the purported wife was named as the “widow” on various documents, including the death certificate, after the alleged husband's death). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 402(g), a beneficiary's entitlement to Young Mother's insurance benefits ends when she remarries. Although there are certain exceptions to the general rule that remarriage terminates entitlement to Young Mother's benefits, the facts presented do not suggest that any exception applies in this case. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(g) and 402(s).

In summary, based upon our research of Missouri law and the law of the Cayman Islands, it appears that the marriage between Ms. B~ and Mr. P~, for want of other defects, would be upheld as valid, regardless of whether the marriage was registered in the state of Missouri, because the parties complied with the laws of the Cayman Islands for validly solemnizing a marriage

Frank V. S~ III
Chief Counsel, Region VII

By
Jennifer L. A~
Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 00-470 Status of Valid Marriage Relationship for Entitlement as a Widow

DATE: April 20, 2000

1. SYLLABUS

Under Missouri law, failure to record the marriage license does not render the marriage invalid. Since Missouri statutes place the liability for filing the marriage license with the person who performs the marriage, it is irrelevant that the parties to the marriage did not record the license or may not have wanted the license recorded.

A voidable marriage may only be attacked in the lifetime of both spouses.

2. OPINION

You asked for our legal assessment of the following fact situation: Mr. Eldon R~ and Ms. Cassie E. G~ obtained a marriage license from New Madrid County, Missouri, on August 20, 1987. A marriage ceremony was performed on August 26, 1987, by Reverend John L~. Mr. R~, Ms. G~, Rev. L~, and the proper witnesses signed the marriage certificate. On October 7, 1987, New Madrid County sent a reminder letter to Mr. R~ and Ms. G~ regarding the failure to record the marriage license. There is no evidence that anyone ever recorded the marriage license. Ms. G~ stated that at the time of her marriage she had no intention of filing the marriage license with the county recorder's office as it may have caused a change in the social security benefits she was receiving as a young mother on her former deceased spouse's record. Rev. L~ acknowledged that he performed the marriage ceremony of Mr. R~ and Mr. G~. He indicated that he was sure he sent the marriage license to the county recorder's office for filing and did not remember any particular request by the parties not to do so. He stated that if he failed to send the marriage license to the county recorder it would have been the first time in forty years. Mr. R~ and Ms. G~ lived together as husband and wife until his death on February 10, 2000. Based on an analysis of all of the applicable Missouri statues and case law, it appears that failure to record the marriage license does not render the marriage invalid.

Pursuant to Missouri Statute,

Previous to any marriage in this state, a license for that purpose shall be obtained from the officer authorized to issue the same, and no marriage contracted shall be recognized as valid unless the license has been previously obtained, and unless the marriage is solemnized by a person authorized by law to solemnize marriages.

(emphasis added) Mo. Ann. Stat. § 451.040 (1) (West 1999).

There are no Missouri statutes that provide that a solemnized marriage is invalid where there is a failure to return the marriage license to the county recorder's office. Missouri statues speak only to the criminal liability of the recorder for refusing to record a marriage license and to the officer or person who performs the marriage who fails to return the marriage license. See Mo. Ann. Stat. § 193.185 and § 451.130 (West 1999). See also 52 Am. Jur. 2d Marriage § 41 (1998)(“Generally speaking, the registration or recording of a marriage is not essential to its validity, since such provisions are addressed to the officials issuing the license, certifying the marriage, and making the proper return and registration or recording, rather than to the parties to the marriage.”) Because, Missouri statutes place the liability upon Rev. L~ to file the marriage license with the county recorder's office, it is irrelevant that Ms. G~ did not record the license or may not have wanted the marriage license recorded.

Furthermore, it would appear that even if Rev. L~ had returned the marriage license, as he so stated, to the county recorder's office for filing in accordance with section 193.185 and the license was subsequently lost by the recorder, the marriage license could be “reconstructed” by the minister or officer who solemnized any such marriage. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 451.170 (West 1999). In addition, if the minister or officer who solemnized any marriage, is dead or refused to give a certificate as required by Mo. Ann. Stat. section 451.170 or his whereabouts are unknown, two credible persons who witnessed the marriage may make affidavits to the fact of the marriage to be filed and recorded at the county recorder's office. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 451.190 (West 1999).

There is a strong public policy in favor of marriage, and the presumption in favor of marriage is very strong. See Yun v. Yun, 908 S.W. 2d 787, 790 (Mo.1995). While no Missouri court has ever discussed the issue of failure to record a marriage license, in the recent case of Chervitz v. Bi-State Development Agency, et al., 11 S.W.3d 714 (Mo. 1999), the Missouri Court of Appeals held that because a couple complied with Section 451.040 of the Missouri statue and had a marriage ceremony performed by a person authorized by law to solemnize a marriage, the marriage was valid. Id. at 717. In addition, even if a marriage was determined voidable because of the defect in failing to record the marriage license, a voidable marriage may only be attacked in the lifetime of both spouses. See Glass v. Glass, 546 S.W. 2d 738, 740, n.2 (Mo. 1977). Because Mr. R~ is deceased, the marriage may not be attacked at this time.

Accordingly, based upon our research of Missouri case law and statutes, it appears that the marriage between Mr. R~ and Ms. G~, for want of other defects, would be upheld as valid regardless whether the marriage license was recorded or who was at fault for failing to record the marriage license as the parties had properly obtained a license and had the marriage solemnized by a person authorized by law to solemnize marriages. We hope this will aid you in determining whether Ms. G~ is entitled to widows benefits. Should you need future assistance when a specific fact situation arises, please do not hesitate to contact our office.