PR 06210.044 Rhode Island
A. PR 83-036 John M~, ~ -- Validity of Mexican Divorce -- Rhode Island
DATE: October 31, 1983
DIVORCE -- VALIDITY OF DIVORCE OBTAINED OUTSIDE OF STATE -- OUTSIDE OF UNITED STATES -- RHODE ISLAND
Rhode Island courts would probably apply the law of the State where both parties to a Mexican divorce were domiciled in determining the validity of the divorce, although in situations where one or both parties were domiciled in Rhode Island at the time or where the parties were domiciled in different jurisdictions each of which would render a different result, Rhode Island would apply its own law. In the instant case, the law of New York which would recognize the validity of the Mexican divorce would probably be applied by the Rhode Island courts in the absence of definitive law to the contrary, since both were domiciled in New York at the time of the divorce. (M~, John, ~ -- RAI (T~), to ARC, 10/31/83.)
MARRIAGE -- COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE -- RHODE ISLAND
Since Rhode Island law recognizes common-law marriages, where the parties resumed living together in Rhode Island holding themselves out as husband and wife and believed they were married, Rhode Island courts would hold that they were validly married at the time of the husband's death.
Clear and convincing evidence of the existence of the necessary elements constituting a common-law marriage is required. (M~, John,~ -- RAI (T~), to ARC, 10/31/83.)
You have requested our opinion whether a Mexican divorce obtained by the claimant from the wage earner would be considered valid by the courts of Rhode Island.
According to the file, the claimant, Mabel S~, married the wage earner, John M~, in 1958 in New York. On December 24, 1965, the claimant obtained a Mexican divorce from the wage earner. The claimant appeared personally at the divorce proceedings and met Mexico's residency requirement. The wage earner was represented by an attorney at the proceedings and submitted to the Jurisdiction of the Mexican court.
Both the claimant and the wage earner were domiciled in New York at the time of the divorce. They both remained domiciled in New York after the divorce and lived together there until 1969, although the claimant used her maiden name following the divorce. The parties were separated from 1969 through 1978 and thereafter resumed living together in Rhode Island in 1979. The wage earner died on December 31, 1980, while domiciled in Rhode Island. Neither the claimant nor the wage earner had remarried at any time after the Mexican divorce. On April 7, 1983, Mabel S~ filed an application for widow's benefits on the deceased wage earner's account.
Section 216(h)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act provides that an applicant is the widow of a wage earner if the courts of the state in which the wage earner was domiciled at death would find that the claimant and the wage earner were validly married at the time of his death. Accordingly, the claimant's status must be determined under Rhode Island law. Whether the claimant was married to the wage earner at the time he died in turn depends upon whether the claimant's Mexican divorce from the wage earner is valid. In deciding this question we must first decide whether the courts of Rhode Island, in addressing the issue of the validity of the divorce, would apply Rhode Island law or the law of New York, where the parties were domiciled at the time of the divorce. New York law upholds the validity of a bilateral divorce decree rendered by a foreign country in cases where, as here, one spouse appears personally and the other spouse submits to the Jurisdiction of the foreign court by appearing through an attorney, and the residency requirements of the foreign country are met. Rosenstiel-v. Rosenstiel, 16 N.Y.2d 64, 262 N.Y.Supp. 2d 86, 209 N.E.2d 709.(1965),. cert. denied, 383 U.S. 943 (1966). Rhode Island, however, will not recognize a foreign divorce decree where neither spouse had an actual domicile within the foreign country. See, e.g., our opinion re. Peter Y~, March 12, 1979.
We have been unable to locate any Rhode Island case law discussing what law the courts of Rhode Island would apply in the circumstances of this case. It is clear that Rhode Island would apply its own law in cases in which one or both of the parties to a foreign divorce are domiciled in Rhode Island at the time of the divorce. Opinion re. Peter Y~ , supra. We believe Rhode Island would also apply its own law in cases where the parties to a foreign divorce are each domiciled in different states at the time of the divorce and those states would reach contrary conclusions as to the validity of the divorce. In the present case, however, the claimant and wage earner were married in New York and were both domiciled in New York at the time of the divorce. In addition, they continued to live in New York for at least several years subsequent to the divorce. At the time of the divorce only the State of New York had an interest in their marriage status, and New York would give recognition to their bilateral Mexican divorce. Rosenstiel v. Rosenstiel, supra. We believe that under such circumstances the courts of Rhode Island would apply New York law to determine the validity of the divorce. A conclusion that the courts of Rhode Island would recognize the status the parties acquired while domiciled in New York is consistent with the interest of stability in Judicial determinations. We therefore conclude, in the absence of Rhode Island law to the contrary, that the courts of Rhode Island would apply New York law and find that the claimant's Mexican divorce from the wage earner was valid. 27B C.J.S. Divorce, §326; cf. Rosen v. Sitnet, 418 A.2d 490 (Pa. Super. 1980).
Having determined that the courts of Rhode Island would recognize the claimant's Mexican divorce in this case, it would ordinarily be concluded that the claimant is not entitled to widow's benefits on the wage earner's account. However, the claimant and wage earner lived together in Rhode Island from 1979 until the wage earner's death on December 31, 1980. The claimant alleges that she and the wage earner considered themselves to be husband and wife during that time. Rhode Island does recognize common-law marriages as valid. Souza v. O'Hara, 121R.I. 88, 395 A.2d 1060 (1978). Proof of a common-law marriage requires clear and convincing evidence that the parties considered themselves to be married and that their conduct gave rise to a general reputation among friends and relatives that they were married. Sardonis v. Sardonis, 106 R.I. 469, 261A.2d 22 (1970). As the fact finder, you must determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence that a valid common-law marriage had arisen. 1_/ If you should find upon your review of the evidence that the claimant was the common-law wife of the wage earner at the time of his death, the claimant would qualify for widow's benefits on the wage earner's account, assuming she meets all other conditions of entitlement.
1_/ We note that the file contains conflicting evidence concerning the existence of a common-law marriage. The claimant alleged the existence of a common-law marriage in her application for widow's benefits, and several relatives have stated that they always considered the claimant and the wage earner to be husband and wife. In an earlier application for the lump-sum death payment, however, the claimant stated that she did not have a common-law marriage.