TN 5 (05-14)

PR 06310.021 Louisiana

A. PR 14-067 Louisiana State Law – Effect of Relative Nullity of Marriage on Reinstatement of Title II Benefits (Claimant Jonathan; CAN SSN~ C1) – REPLY

DATE: August 26, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

The DAC was married on January 11, 2013 to Courtney and as a result, the Agency terminated the DAC benefits the same month and began to compute his SSI benefits as a couple. The DAC's representative payee filed a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage in Louisiana State seeking to have the DAC's marriage declared null and void. The Louisiana state law provides that a marriage is relatively null when one of the parties to marry does not freely give their consent. 

On June 30, 2013, the Louisiana state court issued a judgment declaring the marriage relatively null. Based on the Louisiana law regarding relatively null marriages and the evidence submitted the representative payee, the agency could not reinstate the DAC's benefits no earlier than June 2013 which is the date of the judgment decreeing the marriage relatively null.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

This memorandum is in response to your request for a legal opinion on the effect of a June 20, 2013, Louisiana state court judgment decreeing Jonathan’s (Jonathan’s) January 11, 2013, marriage to Courtney (Courtney) relatively null. Specifically, you asked whether under Louisiana law a relatively null marriage is void and legally nonexistent from the beginning, or whether it is voidable only from the date of the judgment declaring the marriage relatively null.  You also asked if the judgment declaring the marriage relatively null allows the Social Security Administrative (agency) to reinstate Jonathan’s Title II disabled adult child (DAC) benefits back to the date the agency terminated his DAC benefits in January 2013 due to his marriage, or only from the date in June 2013 that the court issued the judgment declaring Jonathan’s marriage relatively null.

ANSWER

Based on Louisiana law regarding relatively null marriages and the evidence provided, the agency could reinstate Jonathan’s DAC’s benefits no earlier than June 2013, the date of the judgment decreeing Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney relatively null.

BACKGROUND

According to the information that you provided, in August 2012 the agency found Jonathan entitled to Title II DAC benefits A disabled adult may be entitled to child’s insurance benefits on the earnings record of an insured person if, among other things, the disabled adult is 18 years old or older, and has a disability that began before age 22. 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5).

due to intellectual and personality disorders. Tina’s aunt, was Jonathan’s representative payee. Jonathan, born in October, was 30 years old at the time of his January 11, 2013, marriage to Courtney. As a result of his marriage to Courtney, that same month, the agency terminated Jonathan’s Title II DAC benefits and began to compute his Title XVI benefits as a couple rather than as an individual. 

In order to protect Jonathan’s interests, Ms. J~ filed a Petition for the full Interdiction Full interdiction is the complete removal of one’s right to care for oneself and one’s affairs or estate because of mental incapacity. BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 815 (Rev. 7th Ed. 1999). Louisiana law provides that persons subject to mental or physical illness or disability, whether of a temporary or permanent nature, are subject to interdiction. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 362.  A court may order the full interdiction of a natural person of the age of majority, or an emancipated minor, who due to an infirmity, is unable consistently to make reasoned decisions regarding the care of his person and property, or to communicate those decisions, and whose interests cannot be protected by less restrictive means. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 389.  

of Jonathan (Petition for Interdiction) on January 17, 2013, in a Louisiana state court. In support of the Petition for Interdiction, Ms. J~ submitted an affidavit from Jonathan’s treating physician that stated that Jonathan had a severely limited capacity, could not live independently, and could not manage his own affairs.  On February 25, 2013, a Louisiana state court issued a Judgment of Interdiction placing Jonathan under full interdiction and appointing Ms. J~ as Jonathan’s curator. Under Louisiana law, the court shall appoint a curator to represent the interdict in juridical acts, and to care for the person or affairs of the interdict, or any aspect of either. La. Civil Code Ann. art. 392.     

On March 18, 2013, Ms. J~, as curator for and on Jonathan’s behalf, filed a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage in Louisiana state court naming Courtney as the defendant and seeking to have Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney declared null and void. In this petition, Ms. J~ alleged that the marriage between Jonathan and Courtney was “relatively null” because Jonathan “was incapable of discernment at the time of the marriage ceremony.” Further, Ms. J~ alleged that Jonathan’s limitations rendered him “incapable of entering into marriage with an understanding of the consequences” of marriage. On April 30, 2013, a deputy sheriff of Livingston Parish, Louisiana, personally served Courtney with notice of the Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage. On June 20, 2013, the Louisiana state court issued a Judgment Decreeing Marriage Relatively Null.  

ANALYSIS

Requirements for Title II DAC Benefits and Termination Due to Marriage

Section 202(d)(1) of the Social Security Act (Act) provides that a child (as defined in section 216(e)) of a fully insured individual is eligible for child’s insurance benefits if, among other conditions, he is unmarried, and he is under 18 or is 18 years old or older and has a disability that began before age 22. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1)-(5). Of relevance here, an individual’s entitlement to DAC’s benefits ends with the month in which the individual marries. 20 C.F.R. § 404.352(b)(4).  However, if the individual’s marriage ends, he may be re-entitled to DAC’s benefits.

Social Security Ruling (SSR) 84-1 explains that, “[i]f a voidable Although SSR 84-1 uses the terms void and voidable marriages, Louisiana uses the terms “relatively null” and “absolutely null” when referring to annulled marriages. Thus, throughout this memorandum we will interchange and use both terms.

marriage is annulled by court action . . . reentitlement to child’s . . . benefits is ordinarily permitted . . . no earlier than the month in which the marriage is annulled,” so long as the annulling court does not award or retain jurisdiction to award permanent alimony.  SSR 84-1 Sections 202(d)(1) and (6) and 202(h)(1) (42 U.S.C. 402(d)(1) and (6) and 402 (h)(1)) Annulment of a Voidable Marriage—Effect on Entitlement or Reentitlement to Benefits, 1984 WL 49790, *1 (SSA).  Thus, for individuals whose entitlement to DAC’s benefits ended due to a marriage that ended by annulment, the date of reentitlement to DAC’s benefits depends upon whether the marriage was void from the beginning, and thus legally nonexistent, or whether it was voidable from the date of the judgment of annulment under applicable state law.  A void marriage is one that has no legal force or binding effect, and its invalidity may be maintained in any proceedings between any parties. Black’s Law Dictionary, 987 (Rev. 7th Ed. 1999). A voidable marriage is valid for all civil purposes until annulled in direct proceedings. Id

If the agency terminates DAC’s benefits because an individual marries but the marriage is subsequently annulled, the agency must determine whether the individual is reentitled to receive DAC’s benefits.  SSR 84-1, 1984 WL 49790, *1. If the agency considers the individual’s marriage void under applicable state law, the agency considers the individual never to have married, and he will be reentitled to DAC’s benefits as of the date the agency first terminated his benefits. Id. If, on the other hand, the agency considers the individual’s marriage voidable under applicable state law and a court annuls the marriage, the individual may be reentitled to benefits as of the date of the first full month the agency considered him to be no longer married. Id.; see e.g., 20 C.F.R. § 404.620(a)(1) (a claimant who files an application for benefits before the first month she meets the requirements for entitlement may receive benefits from the first month she meets all the requirements).

As stated, although SSR 84-1 uses the terms void and voidable marriages, Louisiana uses the terms “relatively null” and “absolutely null” when referring to annulled marriages.  The matter at hand concerns the impact of a Louisiana start court’s judgment decreeing a marriage relatively null, and therefore, we now address Louisiana law. 

Louisiana Law Regarding Relatively Null Marriages

Louisiana law provides that a marriage is “relatively null” when one of the parties to marry does not freely give their consent. La Civ. Code Ann. art. 95. Louisiana law further provides that consent is not freely given when consent is given either under duress or by a person incapable of discernment. La Civ. Code Ann. art. 93. The party who did not freely give their consent has the right to challenge a relatively null marriage.  La Civ. Code Ann. art. 95.  In addition, a relatively null marriage produces civil effects until it is declared null. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 97. A “relatively null” marriage is considered valid until annulled by a judicial decree rendered in a direct action of nullity brought by a proper party. See Succession of Barth, 178 La. 847, 152 So. 543 (La. 1934). A relatively null marriage under Louisiana law corresponds to the voidable marriage terminology SSR 84-1 references. The POMS provide that a voidable marriage is a marriage which is defective and can be adjudged void (annulled) but which is considered valid unless and until declared void as a result of a court action on its validity See POMS GN 00305.130 Voidable Marriage

Louisiana Law Regarding Absolutely Null Marriages

A marriage is absolutely null when it is contracted without a marriage ceremony, by procuration, or in violation of an impediment. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 95. Under Louisiana law, an “absolutely null” marriage is devoid of legal effect from the moment of its inception. Burrell v. Burrell, 154 So.2d 103, 106 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1963).  An absolutely null marriage under Louisiana corresponds to the void marriage terminology SSR 84-1 references and is legally nonexistent. The POMS provide that a void marriage is legally nonexistent from the beginning under state law. The parties to a void marriage are considered never to have been validly married. See POMS GN 00305.125 Void Marriages

The Louisiana State Court Decreed Jonathan’s January 2013 Marriage to be Relatively Null, and Therefore, the Marriage Was Valid Until Annulled on June 20, 2013

You have asked whether under Louisiana law, the June 2013 Judgment rendered Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney void and legally nonexistent from the beginning. The Judgment declared the marriage between Jonathan and Courtney “relatively null” based on Louisiana Civil Code article 95, which defines a marriage as relatively null when one of the parties to marry does not freely give their consent.  Here, Jonathan did not freely consent to the marriage because he was incapable of discernment at the time of the marriage. In her Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage, Ms. J~ alleged that Jonathan’s limitations (based on mental deficits, bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, and probably mild retardation) rendered him incapable of entering into marriage with an understanding of the consequences of marriage. Because Ms. J~ asserted that Jonathan could not freely consent to marriage, Ms. J~, as curator and on Jonathan’s behalf, was the proper party to challenge the validity of the marriage between Jonathan and Courtney. See La. Civil Code Ann. art 392. A marriage contracted without one of the party’s free consent is considered valid until declared null. See La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 97. Thus, we believe that Jonathan’s marriage would be considered valid until June 20, 2013, when the Louisiana state court entered judgment decreeing the marriage relatively null.

As noted, a relatively null marriage is considered valid until annulled by a judicial decree rendered in a direct action of nullity brought by a proper party. See Succession of B~, 152 So. at 851. Thus, Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney was valid until the court entered judgment on June 20, 2013, declaring the marriage relatively null. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 97 (providing that a relatively null marriage produces civil effects The words “civil effects” are used without restriction and include all civil effects given to marriage by the law. See Succession of M~, 183 La. 776, 164 So. 797 (La. 1935).

until it is declared null). If a court annuls a voidable marriage, an individual may be reentitled to child’s benefits beginning no earlier than the month in which the marriage is annulled. See SSR 84-1. We have addressed the issue of reentitlement to child’s insurance benefits after annulment of a voidable marriage and reached a similar conclusion. See PR 06315.005 Arkansas A. PR 11-014 Reply- Whether a Decree of Annulment Renders a Marriage Void or Voidable Under Arkansas Law- NH Charles R. B. at 3 (November 15, 2010), http://policynet.ba.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1506315005.   Therefore, the agency cannot reinstate Title II benefits effective January 2013, the date the agency terminated Jonathan’s benefits due to his marriage to Courtney. Rather, the agency could reinstate Jonathan’s DAC’s benefits no earlier than June 2013, the date of the judgment decreeing Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney relatively null.

Consideration of the Louisiana State Court Judgment Pursuant to SSR 83-37c     

 We must also consider whether the June 20, 2013 Louisiana state court Judgment Decreeing Marriage Relatively Null binds the agency. A state court order is binding on the agency when:  (1) an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits previously has been determined by a state court of competent jurisdiction; (2) the issue was genuinely contested before the state court by parties with opposing interests; (3) the issue falls within the general category of domestic relations law; and (4) the resolution by the state trial court is consistent with the law enunciated by the highest court in the state. See SSR 83-37c, 1983 WL 31272 (adopting Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1974), as agency policy). As discussed below, the Louisiana judgment meets all four prongs of SSR 83-37c, and therefore, the judgment is binding on the agency.

The Louisiana Judgment meets the first prong of the G~ analysis of SSR 83-37c because Louisiana courts have jurisdiction over an action to annul marriage if one or both parties are domiciled in the state. See LA. CODE CIV. PROC. ANN. art. 10 (A)(6). Jonathan resided in Louisiana at all relevant times. The Judgment meets the second prong because the evidence shows a return of service of process by the sheriff’s office in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, indicating that Courtney, the named defendant, was personally served with notice of the Petition for a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage. It is unclear whether Courtney appeared in court to contest Ms. J~’s Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage. However, Courtney was personally served with notice of the petition and had an opportunity to contest it, whether she availed herself of the opportunity or not.

The Judgment satisfies the third prong of the G~ analysis of SSR 83-37c because the issue of annulment falls within the general category of domestic relations law. See La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 94, 95 (noting the general principles of nullity of marriage). The Judgment satisfies the fourth prong of G~ because the state court judgment finding Jonathan’s marriage relatively null is consistent with the law enunciated by the highest court of the state. See Succession of B~, 152 So. at 851. (Louisiana Supreme court decision noting that a relatively null marriage is considered valid until annulled by a judicial decree rendered in a direct action of nullity brought by a proper party). As such, the agency is bound by and should accept the June 2013 Louisiana court judgment declaring Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney relatively null.

CONCLUSION

Based on Louisiana law regarding relatively null marriages and the evidence provided, the agency could reinstate Jonathan’s DAC’s benefits no earlier than June 2013, the date of the judgment decreeing Jonathan’s marriage to Courtney relatively null. 

Michael McGaughran
Regional Chief Counsel

By
Una McGeehan
Assistant Regional Counsel


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1506310021
PR 06310.021 - Louisiana - 06/23/2014
Batch run: 06/23/2014
Rev:06/23/2014