PR 06210.027 Mississippi
A. PR 02-066 Request for Legal Opinion Number Holder - Bobby D. P~, SSN ~
DATE: April 5, 2002
The claimant is filing for benefits as the NH's divorced spouse. Mississippi would not recognize the claimant's Mexican divorce from the NH. However, since the claimant would be estopped from claiming that the divorce was invalid to obtain benefits as the NH's legal spouse, she can qualify as the NH's divorced spouse if she otherwise qualifies for benefits, per POMS GN 00305.180C.2.
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).