PR 06005.396 Vietnam

A. PR 98-007 Foreign Law Question--Validity of Chinese Custom Marriage in South Vietnam in 1956, registered with Chinese Embassy in 1961--~

DATE: May 14, 1998

1. SYLLABUS

The marriage requirements in South Vietnam as of 1956 recognized a custom marriage so long as it was registered by either a civil authority or an embassy under the laws of the country of the embassy. A valid marriage would not, however, have been created merely by the Chinese custom ceremony. It had to be registered to be valid.

South Vietnam did recognize as legally valid ceremonial marriages by foreign nationals who registered the marriage with their country's embassy.

2. OPINION

Introduction

You have requested an opinion as to the validity of a Chinese custom marriage purportedly entered into in South Vietnam in 1 956 or 1957 1/ and registered by the Republic of China's embassy in Saigon in 1 961. This marriage is relevant to the auxiliary benefits of the beneficiary on the account of the number holder and all other means of validating a marital relationship have been exhausted.

It is our opinion that the subject marriage was valid under the laws of Viet Nam in effect at the time of the ceremony.

Discussion

You specifically asked the following questions:

1. What were the marriage requirements in South Vietnam as of 1 956? Would a valid marriage have been created merely by the Chinese custom ceremony?

2. If the answer to the first question is "no," in 1961, did South Vietnam permit two foreigners to create a legally recognized marriage by having it registered at, rather than conducted by, their country's embassy? (You noted that the Chinese embassy had a pre-printed form for the registration of Chinese custom marriages in Vietnam and speculated on the use of that language as it may relate to the authenticity of the documents.)

You included with your request two claims files that contained in relevant part, copies of the marriage certificate and reports of contact establishing the apparent authenticity of the documents. 2/ You also related that, based on the record, you are willing to accept that some type of custom marriage did take place so there is no issue of whether or not the ceremony took place--only its legal effect. Another minor issue is the use of the French language by the Chinese embassy and its possible effect on the authenticity of the documents.

The government entity that has the authority and expertise to provide information on foreign law questions of this nature is the Library of Congress, Law Library. Our office contacted that office and received information about the legal requirements for marriage in Vietnam during the relevant time period.

Since the marriage ceremony in question occurred in 1956 or 1957 and was registered in 1961, the relevant time period considered is 1956 to 1961. The Library of Congress informs us that,

The Family Law of 1 959 abolished polygamy; 3/ but, like the three older laws, it required a legal marriage to be evidenced by a marriage certificate attesting not only to the fact that all conditions had been fulfilled but that a civil marriage has also been carried out in the manner prescribed by law and in the presence of the officer issuing the marriage certificate.

The Library of Congress further explained that ceremonial marriages were legal providing they were appropriately registered, and that there were legalizations of many customary marriages after the promulgation of the Family Law of 1958.

Concerning the legality of applying Chinese embassy rules to Vietnam marriages, the Library of Congress opinion indicates that Vietnam followed international law and recognized marriages as valid so long as they met the requirements of the particular country whose embassy was being used to certify the marriage.

Opinion

In the present case, since we are accepting that a custom marriage took place in either 1956 or 1957, and that it was recorded at the Chinese embassy in 1 961, it seems clear that a valid marriage was created that would have been recognized under the laws of Vietnam in effect at the time.

The answers to the specific questions posed are as follows.

The marriage requirements in South Vietnam as of 1956 recognized a custom marriage so long as it was registered by either a civil authority or an embassy under the laws of the country of the embassy. A valid marriage would not, however; have been created merely by the Chinese custom ceremony--it would have had to have been registered to be valid.

South Vietnam did recognize as legally valid ceremonial marriages by foreign nationals who registered the marriage with their country's embassy.

Concerning the minor issue of the use of the French language by the Chinese embassy, the Library of Congress indicated that all of the documents were in French. We suggest this is not an important issue because of the wide use of French in Vietnam at that period of time.

Conclusion

Based on the information provided and the law researched, it is our opinion that there was a legally valid marriage, legally recognized by Vietnam, between the beneficiary and the number holder.

1/ Apparently the record reflects allegations that there were two different dates of the ceremonial marriage. In some cases the claimants alleged the marriage took place in 1957 and in others 1956. The certificate of marriage issued by the Chinese embassy in 1961 uses the date of the marriage as September 14, 1956. Since we will accept that a ceremony did take place, and there was no legal change between 1956 and 1957, the exact date is irrelevant to the outcome of this opinion.

2/ The claims file contains reports of contact from both a Claims Representative and a Service Representative, each of whom reviewed the original documents and determined they appear authentic. For this opinion, we will consider those documents to be authentic.

3/ prior to 1959, polygamy was legal in Vietnam. Because there is no allegation of a polygamous marriage in this case, we will not address this issue even though the concept may show up in discussion. Also, the discussion of polygamy involves marriages of "first rank" and marriages of "second rank." Again, because there is no allegation of other marriages of the number holder, we will limit our analysis to marriages of the "first rank."


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1506005396
PR 06005.396 - Vietnam - 05/29/2002
Batch run: 01/27/2009
Rev:05/29/2002