PR 06210.022 Maine
A. PR 99-103 Validity of a Mexican Divorce
DATE: January 21, 1997
Maine would look to its own law to determine the validity of a Mexican divorce, even if the parties were domiciled elsewhere at the time of the divorce. Maine will only recognize an out-of-state divorce that is decreed according to the law of the place where it occurred, by a court having jurisdiction of the cause and of both parties.
Under Maine law, a person who relied on an invalid divorce; e.g., accepting property as part of a divorce settlement, marrying a second time, clearly acted in reliance on the divorce decree. As such, the person would be estopped from attacking the validity of the invalid divorce. However, estoppel does not make an invalid divorce valid. It merely prevents the estopped person from taking a position that the divorce was invalid.
You have requested our opinion concerning the validity of a Mexican divorce between the claimant and her first husband. You have also questioned what effect, if any, the validity of this divorce would have on the claimant's current entitlement on the record of her second husband, following his death.
In this case, the claimant married her first husband, Malcolm S~, on June 20, 1953 in Bar Harbor, Maine. Subsequently, the claimant and Mr. S~ moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, where they were living in 1967, when they decided to obtain a divorce. A settlement was agreed upon, which apparently gave custody of the couple's children, as well as child support, to the claimant.
Afterwards, Mr. S~ went to Mexico to obtain the divorce decree. The claimant was not present in Mexico during the proceeding, nor does it appear that she was represented by anyone at that time. The divorce decree was issued by the civil court of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico on November 29, 1967. It stated that the parties were free to remarry. The claimant subsequently married Allen C~ on April 15, 1978, in Lexington, Massachusetts. Mr. C~ died on June 9, 1996, which terminated the marriage. The claimant is currently receiving benefits as the surviving widow of Mr. C~. She has now applied for benefits on the account of Mr. S~.
The claimant may receive benefits on the account of Mr. S~ as his wife if, at the time the claimant filed her application, the courts of the state in which the Mr. S~ was domiciled would find that they were validly married. See Section 216 (h)(1)(A)(i) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 416 (h)(1)(A)(i). At the time that the claimant filed her application, Mr. S~ was domiciled in Maine. Therefore, the determination of whether the claimant remained married to Mr. S~ must be made under the law which would be applied by the courts of Maine.
Whether or not the claimant is still married to Mr. S~ depends upon whether their Mexican divorce was valid. Since both the claimant and Mr. S~ were domiciliaries of Massachusetts at the time of the divorce, we must first determine whether the courts of Maine would apply their own law or the law of Massachusetts in determining the validity of the divorce. While there is no statutory or judicial precedent in Maine directly discussing this point, we have held in opinions re Arthur R. S~, Jr., July 6, 1970, and Beverly F~, January 5, 1983, that Maine would look to its own law to determine the validity of a Mexican divorce, even if the parties were domiciled elsewhere at the time of the divorce.
Maine will only recognize an out-of-state divorce that is decreed according to the law of the place, by a court having jurisdiction of the cause and of both parties. See 19 M.R.S.A. § 663. In regards to the Mexican divorce between the claimant and Mr. S~, it is clear that the Mexican court did not properly have jurisdiction over either party. Mr. S~ apparently went to Mexico for the limited purpose of obtaining the divorce, and does not appear to have ever been domiciled in Mexico. Additionally, the claimant never went to Mexico, nor made an appearance through any sort of representatives. Therefore, the Mexican court which issued the divorce decree did not have jurisdiction over the parties as required by the Maine statute, and as such, the state of Maine would find that their divorce was not valid.
Although we believe that the Mexican divorce between the claimant and Mr. S~ is invalid, we also believe that the principal of estoppel is applicable to the current facts. In this case, it appears that the claimant would be estopped from asserting the invalidity of the divorce. A party who participated in a foreign divorce may be prevented from denying its validity; however, an invalid divorce is not made valid by reason of estoppel. Rather, estoppel merely prevents the estopped person from taking a position that the divorce was invalid.
By accepting property as part of a settlement from her first husband, and in marrying a second time, the claimant clearly acted in reliance on the divorce decree. While the plaintiff has alleged that she did "not want the divorce", this allegation obviously did not prevent the parties from securing the decree, and even more importantly, did not stop the plaintiff from taking the above noted actions. Therefore we believe that the claimant would be estopped from attacking the validity of her divorce from Mr. S~. As such, for the purposes of benefits under the Social Security Act, the claimant would be considered the divorced spouse of Mr. S~, and would be entitled to divorced wife's benefits on his account, assuming that all other conditions of eligibility are met.
Additionally, because the facts show that the claimant acted in reliance on her divorce, particularly in marrying her second husband, Mr. C~, she may be entitled to benefits on Mr. C~'s account as a de facto or deemed widow. Social Security Regulations at 20 C.F.R. 404.346 state that a person "will be deemed to be the wife, husband, widow or widower of the insured if, in good faith [they] went through a marriage ceremony with the insured that would have resulted in a valid marriage except for a legal impediment." The facts in this case indicate that the claimant went through a marriage ceremony with Mr. C~. Additionally, it appears that the marriage would have been valid but for a legal impediment (the fact that the claimant remained married to Mr. S~ as a result of an invalid Mexican divorce). See Social Security Ruling (SSR) 63-48; POMS GN 00305.055. Accordingly, the evidence in this case indicates that the ceremony between the claimant and Mr. C~ was one that would have resulted in a valid legal marriage except for a legal impediment.
Determining whether the claimant went through the ceremony in good faith requires a close examination of the facts. In this case, the facts appear to show that the claimant both accepted and acted in reliance upon her divorce from Mr. S~; the plaintiff accepted custody of the children, as well as child support from him. Thus if, based on your investigation of the facts, you find that the claimant went through with the marriage ceremony in good faith, then she may be considered a deemed widow on the account of Mr. C~.
In summary, it is our opinion that the Mexican divorce between the claimant and Mr. S~ would not be considered valid, however, the claimant would be estopped from attacking the validity of this divorce. Therefore, under the Social Security Act she would be entitled to benefits as a divorced spouse on Mr. S~'s account. Additionally, the claimant may be found to be a deemed widow on Mr. C~'s account, provided that you find that she would through the marriage ceremony with Mr. C~ in good faith.
B. PR 83-001 Beverly F~, ~ - Validity of Mexican Divorce
DATE: January 5, 1983
DIVORCE -- VALIDITY OF DIVORCE OBTAINED OUTSIDE OF STATE -- OUTSIDE OF UNITED STATES -- MAINE
The courts of Maine would look to its own law in determining the validity of a Mexican divorce even though neither of the parties was domiciled there at the time of the divorce.
Maine would not recognize the validity of the Mexican divorce where neither of the parties was domiciled in Mexico.
The principle of estoppel from asserting the invalidity of the divorce would not apply to the person who, relying on the validity of .the divorce, remarried. (F~, Beverly, ~ -- RAI (T~), to ARC, O1/O5/83.)
You have requested our opinion concerning the validity of a Mexican divorce between the claimant, Francis F~, and his first wife, Ruth H~ The claimant has applied for survivor's benefits on the account of the deceased wage earner, Beverly F~ .
The pertinent facts are as follows: The claimant filed a complaint for divorce against his first wife, Ruth H~, in Mexico on November 25, 1965. Both parties were residing in Connecticut at the time. Francis F~ appeared personally before the court and Ruth H~ appeared through her attorney. The divorce was granted November'26, 1965. The claimant subsequently married the wage earner in Connecticut on January 21, 1966. The claimant and Beverly F~ were living together in Maine at the time of the wage earner's death on August 8, 1981.
Francis F~ may qualify as the wage earner's widower if the courts of the State in which the wage earner was domiciled at the time of her death would find that they were validly married at that time, as provided in section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act. The wage earner's final domicile was in Maine. The validity of the claimant's marriage to the wage earner must therefore be determined under the law which would be applied by the courts of Maine.
The validity of the claimant's marriage to the wage earner depends upon whether the claimant's Mexican divorce from his prior spouse is valid. Since Francis F~ and Ruth H~ were domiciliaries of Connecticut at the time of the divorce, we must first determine whether the courts of Maine would apply their own law or the law of Connecticut in determining the validity of the divorce. While there is no statutory or judicial precedent in Maine directly discussing this point, we have held in an opinion re Arthur R. S. ~ Jr. July 6, 1970, that Maine would look to its own law to determine the validity of a Mexican divorce even if the parties were domiciled elsewhere at the time of the divorce.
We further noted in our opinion re Arthur R. S~ , Jr. that we were unable to locate any Judicial precedent in Maine on the issue of whether Maine would recognize a Mexican divorce. The Supreme Judicial Court of
Maine has emphasized on several occasions, however, that domicile of at least one party is a prerequisite of jurisdiction. E.g., Poulin v. Poulin, 241 A. 2d'611 (Me. 1968); Belanger.v. Belanger, 240 A.2d 743 (Me. 1968). A divorce obtained in a foreign country will normally not be recognized as Valid if neither spouse had a domicile in that country, even though domicile is not required for jurisdiction under the laws of the foreign country. 39 ALR 3d 1419, 1423-1424. Accordingly, we Concluded in S~ that the courts of Maine would require that at least one of the parties to a foreign divorce must have been domiciled in the foreign country when the divorce was granted, regardless of whether or not both parties appeared in the divorce proceedings.
It appears that the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine has still not had occasion to rule upon the validity of a divorce decree obtained out- side the United States. We would therefore continue to follow our prior opinion in S~ . The evidence in this case clearly supports a finding that neither Francis F~ nor Ruth H~ was domiciled in Mexico at the time of their divorce. Thus, it is our opinion that the courts of Maine would find that the claimant's Mexican divorce is invalid. 1/ The claimant consequently was not legally married to the wage earner at the time of her death due to his prior undissolved marriage. 2/
You have also asked whether the principle of estoppel would operate in this case to validate the claimant's otherwise invalid marriage to the wage earner. As you know, under certain circumstances the second spouse of an invalidly divorced wage earner may be found to be the widow for Title II purposes, i.e., where both the wage earner and the first spouse are estopped to deny the validity of the marriage and the wage earner is not survived by any next of kin who could collaterally attack the divorce decree. We have held, however, that estoppel does not apply to protect a claimant when that claimant is the invalidly divorced spouse who after the divorce married the wage earner. Opinion re Bruce C~ , March 23, 1978. Francis F~ would not be allowed under Maine law to assert the principle of estoppel for the purpose of obtaining an advantage for himself. Thus you need not consider the question of estoppel in the present case.
1/ Although we have concluded that Maine law is applicable to this claim, we note that the result would be the same under the .law of Connecticut. The courts of Connecticut will not recognize a divorce granted in a foreign country when neither party was domiciled in that foreign country at the time of the divorce. Litvaitis v. Litvaitis, 295 A.2d 519 (Conn. 1972); Opinion re Bruce C ~, March 23, 1978.
2/ The claimant also cannot be found entitled to benefits as the wage earner's widower by deemed marriage under Sec. 216(h)(1)(B) of the Act since there is no evidence in the file to indicate that the claimant's prior marriage to Ruth H~ was ever dissolved by a valid divorce or the death of Ruth H~. POMS sec. GN 00305.170.