TN 12 (05-12)

PR 05605.006 California

A. PR 12-086 Marriage Duration – Common Law Marriage in Panama – Rene

DATE: April 4, 2012

1. SYLLABUS

Panama has recognized common-law marriage since 1946, and the State of California recognizes as valid a marriage contracted outside of California that would be valid by the law of the place where the couple contracted the marriage. Thus, California recognizes a common-law marriage established under Panamanian law. 

The marriage, having lasted more than 10 years, meets the duration of marriage requirement for divorced spouse benefits.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

Whether the Panamanian common-law marriage of Rene and Gladys is valid for the purpose of determining whether Gladys is entitled to divorced spouse benefits on the record of Rene.

SHORT ANSWER

Yes. The State of California would recognize the common-law marriage of Gladys and Rene because common-law marriage is valid under Panamanian law.  Because the marriage lasted more than 10 years, it meets the duration requirement for divorced spouse benefits.

BACKGROUND

On September 9, 2011, Gladys (Claimant) applied for benefits as the divorced spouse of the number holder (NH), Rene , under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act).  On her application, Claimant indicated that she began living with the NH as husband and wife in Santa Cruz, Panama in 1971. She stated that she and the NH had an understanding that they were living together in common-law marriage.  She also stated that they did not have a ceremonial marriage at the time because they could not afford one, but that they believed that they were married because common-law marriage was legal in Panama. On February Beatriz , the first child of the NH and Claimant, was born in Panama.  

On June 7, 1973, Claimant and the NH applied for a marriage license and were civilly married in the United States District Court for the District of the Canal Zone in Panama.  Following the civil marriage, Claimant and the NH moved to Garden Grove, California. Claimant indicated that Frank, the second child of the NH and Claimant, was born on February in California. 

The Superior Court of California, Orange County issued a final judgment of the dissolution of the marriage of Claimant and the NH on May 18, 1981.

Beatriz submitted a “Statement Regarding Marriage” in support of her mother’s application for divorced spouse benefits. Rene stated that she lived with both Claimant and the NH during her childhood and understood them to be husband and wife. She indicated that Claimant and the NH lived together from 1971 to 1973 in Santa Cruz, Panama, and from 1973 to 1981 in Garden Grove, California.

ANALYSIS

The Act provides that a divorced wife of an insured individual is eligible for divorced spouse insurance benefits if she was validly married to the insured for at least 10 years, attains age 62, is not currently married, and files an application. Social Security Act § 202(b)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 402(b)(1); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.331 (requirements for divorced spouse benefits); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00202.005 (relationship and entitlement requirements for divorced spouse benefits); see also Social Security Handbook §§ 307, 311.

In determining the validity of a marriage, the agency applies the law of the state where the insured individual was domiciled at the time the claimant filed the application for benefits.  Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.303 (defining “permanent home” as “legal domicile”). Likewise, the agency applies the law of the state where the insured individual was domiciled to determine whether a valid common-law marriage was contracted outside the United States. See POMS 00307.257 (development of common-law marriage outside the United States).  Here, Claimant and the NH were married in Panama. NH was domiciled in California at the time of Claimant’s application. Therefore, California law determines whether Claimant was validly married to the NH in Panama. 

No California statute specifically addresses the validity of a marriage contracted in Panama; however, the California Family Code provides that “[a] marriage contracted outside this state that would be valid by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was contracted is valid in this state.” Cal. Fam. Code § 308; see People v. Badgett, 895 P.2d 877, 897 (Cal. 1995) (discussing and applying Family Code § 308 to determine validity of purported common law marriage in Texas); see also 52 Am. Jur. 2d. Marriage § 65 (2012) (“[t]he general rule is that the validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the place where it is contracted, or celebrated. Thus, a marriage which is valid under the law of the state or country in which it is contracted will generally be recognized as valid.”).  Accordingly, a marriage that is valid under Panamanian law would be recognized by the State of California.

The Panamanian Constitution and Family Code of Panama recognize de facto, or “common-law,” marriage. See República de Panamá Constitución de 1972 con Reformas de 1978, 1983, 1993, 1994 y 2004, Capitulo 2, Artículo 58, available at http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Panama/vigente.pdf (last visited Feb. 14, 2012); Panama has recognized common-law marriage since 1946. See República de Panamá Constitución de 1946, Capítulo 2, Artículo 56, available at http://bdigital.binal.ac.pa/bdp/descarga.php?f=const/Constitucion1946.pdf

Panama Código de la Familia, Libro Primero, Titulo I, Capítulo III, Artículo 53-56 (Del Matrimonio de Hecho), available at http://www.legalinfo-panama.com/legislacion/familia/codfam_Ia.pdf (last visited Feb. 14, 2012). The text of the Panamanian law was translated by Assistant Regional Counsel Susan L. Smith. There is no official English translation of the Panamanian Constitution or Family Code.

 A valid de facto marriage requires that an unmarried adult man and women, who have the legal capacity to marry, live together as man and wife. See id. The cohabitation must be stable, consistent, and long-lasting. See id. After five consecutive years of cohabitation, the couple may request a civil registration of the marriage. See id. However, civil registration is not required to enforce legal rights as a spouse; a spouse may enforce her legal rights by presenting evidence of the cohabitation and requesting a judicial declaration of marriage. See República de Panamá Constitución de 1972 con Reformas de 1978, 1983, 1993, 1994 y 2004, Capitulo 2, Artículo 58; Código de la Familia, Libro Cuarto, Titulo II, Capítulo III, Artículo 796-804 available at http://www.legalinfo-panama.com/legislacion/familia/codfam_IV.pdf.

A de facto marriage bestows the same legal rights and obligations on the parties as a civil marriage. See Panama Código de la Familia, Libro Primero, Titulo I, Capítulo III, Artículo 53.  For example, upon dissolution of a de facto marriage, each party is legally entitled to half of the property acquired during the marriage, even if the marriage was never civilly registered. See id. at Artículo 59.  Because de facto, or common-law, marriage is valid in Panama, the State of California would likewise recognize a common-law marriage that was established in accordance with Panamanian law. See People v. Badgett, 895 P.2d at 897 (considering whether common-law marriage had been established under Texas law for purpose of California’s marital communication privilege); Cal. Jur. 3d. Common-law Marriages § 62 (2012) (“California does not recognize the validity of common-law marriages.  However, common-law marriages, if valid according to the law of the jurisdiction in which they were initiated, will be recognized as valid in this state.”). 

Here, Claimant and the NH applied for a marriage license and were ceremonially married in the United States District Court in Panama on June 7, 1973.  Claimant and the NH divorced on May 18, 1981, approximately eight years after their marriage by the United States District Court. In order to be entitled to receive divorced spouse benefits, Claimant must show that she was married to the NH for 10 years; therefore, Claimant must show that her marriage to the NH began prior to May 18, 1971. Claimant and the NH had a ceremonial marriage in 1973, two years before they would have been eligible to register the common-law marriage under Panama law.  We found no indication in the Panamanian Family Code that a subsequent ceremonial marriage would invalidate an earlier common-law union. 

Claimant began living with the NH as husband and wife in Panama on January 1, 1971. From the facts presented, it appears that Claimant and the NH possessed the legal capacity to marry.  The evidence and statements provided to the agency indicate that Claimant and the NH began living together as husband and wife in 1971 The evidence submitted includes statements from Claimant and her daughter, but not from the NH. The preferred evidence of common-law marriage is a statement of both spouses. 20 C.F.R. § 404.726(b); POMS GN 00305.065. If the NH is unavailable or uncooperative, the agency should try to obtain other evidence as described in POMS GN 00305.065.

and that their cohabitation did not cease at any time before the 1981 divorce.  Furthermore, a subsequent ceremonial marriage or intent to have a future ceremony generally will not negate a valid, prior common-law marriage. See, e.g., Carty v. Thaler, 583 F.3d 244, 260 (5th Cir. 2009) (“the intention to have a formal proceeding does not automatically disprove the existence of a common-law marriage”); Hinojos v. Railroad Retirement Board, 323 F.2d 227, 231 (5th Cir. 1963) (holding that ceremonial marriage after common-law marriage was “surplusage, as far as the law is concerned”); Gammelgaard v. Gammelgaard, 77 N.W. 2d 479, 483 (Iowa 1956) (stating that ceremonial marriage would have been formal recognition of status assumed through common-law marriage); McIlveen v. McIlveen, 332 S.W. 2d 113, 117 (Tex. Civ. App. 1960) (holding no inconsistency in testimony regarding desire to marry in Catholic ceremony and existence of common-law marriage); 52 Am. Jur. 2d Marriage § 45, Effect of subsequent ceremonial marriage, or intent to have such marriage (2012). Although these authorities consider how common-law marriage is viewed when established within U.S. states, they are nonetheless relevant to show the legal principles that would be used to evaluate the Panamanian common-law marriage at issue here.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it appears that Claimant and the NH entered into a valid marriage under Panamanian law.  Therefore, based on the beginning date of marriage that Claimant has alleged, Claimant and the NH were married for 10 years, from the time of their initial cohabitation in Panama in on January 1, 1971 to their divorce on May 18, 1981.

CONCLUSION

The common-law marriage of Claimant and the NH appears to be valid under Panamanian law. Therefore, it would be recognized in the State of California and entitle the Claimant to divorced spouse benefits based on the years she alleged common-law marriage to the NH. 

B. PR 86-025 Jose (Common law marriage in Cuba)

DATE: June 4, 1986

1. SYLLABUS

MARRIAGE -- COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE -- CALIFORNIA

Common law marriage has been legally acknowledged in Cuba since the Constitution of 1940 went into effect on October 19, 1940, ( Jose; RA IX; ; June 3, 1986).

MARRIAGE -- COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE -- CALIFORNIA

In order to be recognized under Cuban law, a common law marriage must be validated by a final court judgment, as evidenced by either (1) a certificate of marriage issued by the Civil Registry where the validation decree was recorded, or (2) a certified copy of the decree (together with verification by the court clerk that it is a final decree). ( Jose; RA IX; June 3, 1986).

2. OPINION

Doraida has filed an application for widow's insurance benefits on the account of the deceased wage earner, Jose. Jose and Doraida cohabited in their native country, Cuba, from March 9, 1952 through July 28, 1960. Doraida emigrated to the United States in October 1966. Jose followed in May 1967. Thereafter, they lived together in California until Jose's death on November 8, 1984. They were never married ceremonially.

Because Jose was a California domiciliary at the time of his death, California state law applies in assessing Doraida's entitlement to widow's benefits. See section 216(h) (1) (A) of the Social Security Act. A marriage entered into outside California which would be valid under the laws of the jurisdiction where it was contracted is, as a rule, also valid in California. E.g., GC opinion re Joe , February 11, 1986. Doraida's claim to be Jose's widow is based on her contention that Cuba recognizes common law marriage. Therefore, you have asked us to advise whether common law marriage is valid under Cuban law and, if so, what the requirements are for such a marriage.

We are informed by the Hispanic Law Division of the Library of Congress that common law marriage has been legally acknowledged in Cuba since the Constitution of 1940 went into effect on October 19, 1940. However, in order to produce 1egal effects between the parties, the relationship must be validated by a final court judgment granting the same status as a civil marriage. [1] If the requisite judicial validation has been procured, it will be evidenced by either (1) a certificate of marriage issued by the Civil Registry where the validation decree was recorded, or (2) a certified copy of the decree (together with verification by the court clerk that it is a final decree).

Thus, Doraida's contention that cohabitation and procreation are sufficient to establish a common law marriage in Cuba is erroneous. We recommend that you ask Doraida whether she and Jose procured the mandatory validation decree. If so, it will be necessary to obtain appropriate documentation, as indicated above. Absent such documentation, a common law marriage cannot be found to have existed under Cuban law.

 


Footnotes:

[1]

The judgment validates the relationship retroactive to the date of commencement.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1505605006
PR 05605.006 - California - 05/14/2012
Batch run: 11/29/2012
Rev:05/14/2012