You have asked whether the marriage between the claimant and the number holder, which
a Chilean court purportedly annulled, was a valid marriage and satisfied the ten-year
duration requirement for the claimant to qualify for wife’s insurance benefits as
the divorced wife of the number holder.
Based on the information provided and the opinion of the Library of Congress, we conclude
the marriage between the claimant and the number holder, while annulled, was a valid
marriage and satisfied the ten-year duration requirement for the claimant to qualify
for wife’s insurance benefits as the divorced wife of the number holder.
According to the information provided, on January 3, 2011, Lucia T~ (Claimant) filed
for wife’s insurance benefits as a divorced wife of Ociel C~, the number holder (NH).
Claimant and NH married in Chile on November 28, 1957. Chilean law did not permit
divorce until November 2004. However, Claimant presented the couple’s Chilean marriage
certificate with a stamp showing that they had a total separation of property on April
6, 1966, and that the judge of the court of Q~, Chile, annulled their marriage on
December 6, 1990. On April 26, 1991, the clerk recorded this decree of annulment on
the couple’s Chilean marriage certificate.
On January 28, 2011, we advised your office that we needed additional information
before we could render an opinion. In response, you reported:
(1) The basis for the annulment was abandonment;
(2) NH and Claimant separated in 1966 and NH emigrated to the United States; when
NH returned to Chile for a visit, both he and Claimant agreed to obtain an annulment;
(3) Because NH and Claimant jointly sough annulment, any issue of notice is irrelevant;
(4) At the time of the annulment, Claimant resided in Chile and NH resided in Florida.
Based on this information, we requested an opinion from the Library of Congress, asking
them to respond to three questions:
(1) Was the purported annulment by a Chilean judge of the Chilean marriage between
Claimant and NH valid?
(2) If the annulment was not valid, would the parties still be considered married
under Chilean law?
(3) If the annulment was valid, did it render the marriage void from its inception
or merely terminate the marriage as of the date of the annulment?
When reviewing our request, the Library of Congress attorney asked that we confirm
the reason for the annulment, indicating that abandonment is not a valid basis for
annulments in Chile. Further, the attorney requested that we obtain from Claimant
the actual order of annulment, which should state the reason for granting the annulment.
The Agency thereafter recontacted Claimant, who reported she had no further documents.
Based on the lack of additional documentation from Claimant, we clarified our request
to the Library of Congress, as:
(1) In the absence of any further documentation, is there anything in Chilean law
presuming from the four corners of the marriage certificate and, specifically, the
annulment language contained therein, that the annulment was proper and valid?
(2) If so, what is the presumed effect of such an annulment under Chilean law, if
any, based solely on the four corners of the marriage certificate absent further evidence
such as the order of annulment? That is, does Chilean law presume the annulment voided
the marriage or merely ended it?
By letter dated June 16, 2011, attached, the Library of Congress responded to our
Based on the marriage certificate submitted, which is considered an authentic official
document unless successfully challenged in a court of law, the marriage in question
was annulled by a final decision of the . . . Quilpue Lower Court . . . [on] December
12, 1990, and recorded in the competent Civil Registry on April 26, 1991.
The Library of Congress opinion further stated that, “[i]n the absence of a copy of
the actual annulment decision issued by the court, and based solely on the marriage
record at hand, the marriage appears to be putative, presuming the good faith of the
spouses.” Further, the “annulment of the marriage in question became effective as
to the spouses on December 12, 1990, but only became effective as to third parties
on April 26, 1991, when the court’s decision was recorded in the competent Civil Registry.”
Finally, the marriage “ceased to have full civil effects from the moment that the
good faith of both parties was lacking,” that is, “at the time the annulment was filed”
for the plaintiff, and “at the time of his reply to the request for the annulment
was filed” for the defendant.
To qualify for wife’s insurance benefits as the divorced wife of an individual entitled
to old-age benefits, a claimant must have been validly married to the individual under
applicable State law and the marriage must have lasted for a period of at least ten
(10) years immediately before the divorce became final. See Social Security Act (Act) §§ 202(b)(1), 216(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.331(a)(1), (a)(2)
(2010); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00202.001(A)(1); POMS RS 00202.005(A). The term “divorce” refers to a divorce a vinculo m~, one that irrevocably ends
the marriage relationship. See Act § 216(d)(8); POMS GN 00305.120(B). However, whether a court dissolving a marriage refers to its judgment or decision
as a “divorce” or an “annulment” is not necessarily dispositive of its legal effect.
See Social Security Ruling 69-1. A decree of “annulment” may: (1) constitute a judicial
declaration that a purported marriage was void ab initio (a nullity that never existed); (2) terminate a voidable marriage (a marriage that
is defective); or (3) terminate a valid marriage (essentially a divorce). 
To determine whether a claimant and a NH were validly married, SSA looks to the laws
of the state where the NH was domiciled at the time of the claimant’s application.
See Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345 (2010). The information provided indicates
NH was domiciled in Florida when Claimant filed her application for wife’s insurance
benefits as NH’s divorced wife. Florida courts have concluded that “[o]nce a marriage
is shown to have been ceremonially entered into it is presumed to be legal and valid.”
Stewart v. Hampton, 506 So. 2d 70, 71 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1987) (citing Grace v. Grace, 162 So. 2d 314, 317 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1964)).
As a divorce or annulment affects whether a couple is now married, the question of
whether a valid marriage exists at any given time necessarily includes the question
of whether and when the marriage may have ended. Consequently, we look to Florida
law to determine the validity and effect of the Chilean annulment. Specifically, we
must determine whether the annulment voided the marriage from its beginning, and,
thereby, prevented Claimant from meeting the 10-year duration of marriage requirement.
The controlling inquiry is whether Florida would recognize the Chilean annulment as
valid and entitled to comity. When an out-of-state decree is one entered by the court
of a foreign nation, rather than a state or territory of the United States, Florida
courts have discretion as to whether to recognize it and give it effect, which is
“a matter of ‘comity.’” Popper v. Popper, 595 So. 2d 100, 102-03 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1992) (citations omitted). Florida’s
“well-established principles of comity suggest that . . . [Florida courts] should
generally recognize the decisions of a foreign court.” Scotts Co. v. Hacienda Loma Linda, 2 So. 2d 1013, 1016 (Fla. Dist. App. 2008). Under Florida law,
any foreign decree should be recognized as a valid judgment, and thus be entitled
to comity, where the parties have been given notice and the opportunity to be heard,
where the foreign court had original jurisdiction and where the foreign decree does
not offend the public policy of the State of Florida.
Nahar v. Nahar, 656 So. 2d 225, 229 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1995). The Florida Court of Appeals recently
indicated that a trial court properly applied this rule in domesticating a Canadian
annulment decree upon finding the Canadian court had jurisdiction to decide the matter
and the decree did not offend Florida’s public policy. See Deegan v. Taylor, 28 So. 3d 227, 228 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010).
Applying the principles established in N~ to the facts here, NH and Claimant were joint parties to the annulment and, thus,
had notice of that proceeding and the opportunity to be heard. Further, there is no
evidence that the Chilean court, which annulled the marriage in December 1990, lacked
jurisdiction to decide the matter, as that judgment was acceptable when it was recorded
in April 1991. Finally, there is no evidence that recognizing the Chilean annulment
would offend the public policy of the State of Florida. Accordingly, we believe a
Florida court would recognize as valid the annulment decree and give it full effect
under rules of comity.
Based on the opinion of the Library of Congress, Claimant and NH in good faith validly
entered into their marriage in Chile on November 28, 1957. Florida would consider
this marriage valid. Furthermore, although the Library of Congress explained that
abandonment, the basis Claimant offered for the annulment, was not a proper basis
for annulment under Chilean law at that time, we believe a Florida court would accept
the annulment as valid under principles of comity, as the marriage certificate recording
the annulment does not provide any basis on its face for disputing the validity of
the annulment. Given these findings, Florida would consider NH and Claimant were validly
married and their marriage lasted just over thirty-three years, from November 28,
1957, until it ended via annulment on December 12, 1990. Thus, Claimant’s marriage
to NH satisfies the ten-year duration of marriage requirement for her to qualify for
wife’s insurance benefits as NH’s divorced wife. See Act §§ 202(b)(1), 216(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.331(a)(2) (2010); POMS RS 00202.005(A).
For these reasons, we believe that, despite the Chilean annulment, the marriage between
Claimant and NH was valid and satisfies the ten-year duration requirement for Claimant
to qualify for wife’s insurance benefits as NH’s divorced wife.
Very truly yours,
Mary A. S~
Regional Chief Counsel,
Jerome M. A~
Assistant Regional Counsel