You have requested our opinion as to whether a Mexican divorce is valid in the State
of Mississippi and the legal status of Mr. P~'s first wife. We have concluded that
the first wife qualifies for divorced spouse's benefits on Mr. P~'s account.
Bobby D. P~, the number holder (NH), resides in Mississippi and has been receiving
retirement benefits since October 1997. He married Julia Tyler P~, his first wife,
in Oklahoma in 1951. He divorced Julia on May 27, 1970, in Mexico. He did not reside
in Mexico and went there only to obtain the divorce. Julia was not present in Mexico
for the divorce. NH gave Julia a copy of the Mexican divorce record and a letter from
a Texas attorney opining that the Mexican divorce was not valid. Julia did not challenge
the divorce, but did not re-marry. NH married Carolyn Jean Bright P~ in June 1970.
Julia filed for retirement benefits on her own account in 1995, stating that she was
divorced. She then filed a claim in April 2001 as the divorced spouse of NH.
Julia would not be recognized as the legal spouse of NH, even though the Mexican divorce
was not valid. Generally, a state need not recognize foreign divorce decrees. Williams v. North Carolina, 325 U.S. 226 (1945). Mississippi courts have held that full faith and credit will
not be granted to divorces obtained in a foreign country when neither spouse was domiciled
in that country. Carr v. Carr, 724 So.2d 937, 939-40 (Miss. 1998) (It is against public policy to recognize a divorce
when a spouse traveled to a foreign country solely to secure a divorce and was not
a domiciliary of the country and had no intention of becoming one). Because NH went
to Mexico only to obtain a divorce and Julia did not go along, Mississippi law would
not recognize the Mexican divorce. See generally POMS PR 05101.005. Nevertheless, Julia would be estopped from claiming that the divorce was invalid
to obtain benefits as a legal spouse. Julia took no action to contest the divorce
for over 30 years after being advised of its questionable validity. See POMS GN 00305.175 (2)(e).
Julia was not validly divorced from NH, but cannot claim benefits as a legal spouse.
She could, however, obtain benefits as a divorced spouse, if she otherwise qualifies
for benefits. POMS GN 00305.180(C) (2) (If a claimant is estopped to assert the invalidity of a divorce and thus
cannot be considered the worker's spouse, the claimant can obtain benefits as a divorced
spouse or surviving divorced spouse if otherwise qualified).