BASIC (04-07)

PR 06315.025 Michigan

A. PR 07-097 Date for Reinstatement of Father's Benefits When an Annulment Judgment Has Been Entered - Reply Brian S. K~, ~

DATE: March 21, 2007

1. SYLLABUS

Under Gray v. Richardson, SSA is not bound by the court decision if the decision does not fairly and consistently represent State law. The court improperly applied Michigan law when it annulled the marriage. {M.L.C.A. §§ 552.1, 552.2, 552.3} The issue of annulment does not appear to have been genuinely contested, and there is no evidence that the Michigan court resolved the issue consistently with State law. The judgment of annulment terminated a voidable marriage. Therefore, father's benefits may be reinstated effective with the month the annulment decree was entered. .

2. OPINION

BACKGROUND

Brian and Shannon K~ were married in Michigan on June 27, 1987. They had one child, Blue, born May 6, 2002. Shannon died on May 27, 2004, and Brian K~ became entitled to father's benefits on Shannon's account effective that month. Mr. K~'s father's benefits were terminated due to his subsequent marriage to Carmel K~ on September 4, 2004. This marriage was annulled on May 18, 2006. Mr. K~ has requested reinstatement of his Social Security father's benefits effective with the month of the previous termination.

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Program Operations Manual System ("POMS") provides that if his second marriage is considered void according to state (Michigan) law, Mr. K~ can collect benefits as if his second marriage never happened. See POMS GN 00305.120-00305.125. Thus, if his marriage were void, Mr. K~ could collect retroactive benefits for the entire duration of his voided marriage. However, if Mr. K~'s marriage is considered voidable, his benefits may be reinstated effective on the month his annulment decree was entered. See POMS GN 00305.130.1 Therefore we must look to Michigan law to determine whether Mr. K~'s annulment rendered his marriage void or voidable.

In general, although he is not bound by a state court decision in a proceeding to which he was not a party, the Commissioner of Social Security may not disregard a state court's determination of an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits if it fairly and consistently represents state law. Gray v. Richardson, 474 F. 2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1973); George v. Sullivan, 909 F.2d 857, 860 (6th Cir. 1990); see also, S.S.R. 83-37c (adopting Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370). Nevertheless, under the rule from Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370, the Commissioner may disregard a state court determination when it fails to satisfy any one of four criteria:

1. A state court of competent jurisdiction has already determined the issue in a claim for social security benefits;

2. The issue was "genuinely contested" before the state court "by parties with opposing interests";

3. The issue involves domestic relations law;

4. The state court resolved the issue consistently with the law enunciated by the state's highest court.

George v. Sullivan, 909 F.2d at 860; accord, Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d at 1373; see also POMS PR 04805.025.

The annulment proceeding and decree in this case do not satisfy the second and fourth criteria of the list enumerated by the Sixth Circuit in Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d at 1373; George v. Sullivan, 909 F.2d at 860. The issue of annulment does not appear to have been genuinely contested, and there is no evidence that the Michigan Court resolved the issue consistently with state law.

The second criterion set forth in Gray v. Richardson was not satisfied because the annulment does not appear to have been the product of a "genuinely contested" state court proceeding. We have not been provided the original Complaint, so we do not know the relief originally sought or the reasons set forth for such relief. See GN 00305.135(a). Defendant's Counter-Complaint for Annulment states only: "That there exist grounds for Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff to be awarded an annulment under the common law and statutes as provided in the State of Michigan." Counter-Complaint at 2 par. 8. Similarly, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for Annulment states only that "Grounds exist for Plaintiff to be awarded an annulment." Amended Complaint at 1 par 2. From the documents we have been provided it does not appear that the annulment was the result of a "genuine dispute." While we lack the original Complaint, it appears that when confronted with divorce proceedings, Mr. K~ may have raised the possibility of annulment, rather than divorce, for the first time in his Counter-Complaint in order to have his Social Security benefits reinstated as of an earlier date. Carmel appears to have agreed to this approach, which she has no apparent reason to oppose. We note that the reasons set forth in the Court Order reflect language for divorce rather than annulment. Compare Judgment of Annulment at 1 with M.C.L.A. § 552.7(4).

The Michigan annulment also fails to meet the fourth Gray v. Richardson criterion because the court appears to have improperly applied Michigan law when it annulled the marriage between Carmel and Brian. The grounds for annulment of marriage within Michigan are provided for by statute. The Michigan Code provides that: "When a marriage is supposed to be void, or the validity thereof is doubted, for any of the causes mentioned in the 2 preceding sections, [M.L.C.A. §§ 552.1, 552.2] ... upon due proof of the nullity of the marriage it shall be declared void by a decree or sentence of nullity." M.L.C.A. § 552.3. The "2 preceding sections" provide that a marriage is void if:

-prohibited because of consanguinity or affinity between the parties,

-because either party had an existing marriage at the time of solemnization,

-because either party was not legal capacity to contract at the time of solemnization;

M.L.C.A. § 552.1; or

-if either party was under the age of legal consent

-or if consent of one of the parties was obtained by force or fraud, and

the parties do not subsequently voluntarily cohabit.

M.L.C.A. § 552.2. As noted above, neither Defendant's Counter-Complaint nor Plaintiff's Amended Complaint allege any of the factors the applicable statute provides for annulment.

The only reasons for terminating this marriage set forth in the Court's Judgment are consistent with statutory language concerning divorce proceedings: "there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved." M.L.C.A. §§ 552.6(1,3), 552.7(4); see Judgment of Annulment at 1.

Because none of the reasons exist for considering this marriage void under state law, the Judgment of annulment terminated a voidable marriage. Because the marriage was voidable, it was valid until one of the parties obtains a court order ending the relationship.

CONCLUSION

For the forgoing reasons, we conclude that Mr. K~'s benefits should be reinstated (on reapplication) as of the month of his annulment decree because his marriage was voidable.

Sincerely,
Donna L. C~
Chief Counsel, Region V
By:________________________
Edward P. S~
Assistant Regional Counsel


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http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1506315025
PR 06315.025 - Michigan - 04/04/2007
Batch run: 01/27/2009
Rev:04/04/2007