PR 01310.038 Northern Mariana Islands

A. PR 82-025 Carlos, A. T~, Customary Adoption In Northern Mariana Islands

DATE: July 15, 1982


Under the principle of ,,comity ,, which is similar to "full faith and credit" accorded to the States of the U.S. Constitution, the Territory of Guam, the WE's domicile at the time of application would recognize the validity of an adoption under the law of the Northern Mariana Islands. To the extent that the law of the Trust Territory of the Pacific of which is Northern Mariana were a part prior to 1978 is not inconsistent with the constitution or laws of the Northern Marianas, the law of the Trust Territory apply. The statute governing adoptions in the Trust Territories provides for the recognition and confirmation of adoption effected in accordance with local custom. (T~, Carlos A. - ~ - RA IX(FLOERCHINGER) to R~ 7/15/82)


The claimant, Stanley C. T~, filed for child's insurance benefits on November 28, 1980, as the child of the wage earner, Carlos A. T~. Carlos is domiciled on Guam. Stanley C. T~ was born on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands on October 5, 1963. Stanley's father, Estanislao T. T~, is. the son of the wage earner. Statements in the claims file indicate that when all of the parties were domiciled in Saipan, Stanley was given to the wage earner (Carlos) and his wife by Estanislao and his wife; Stanley was either one month or one year old at the time. There was no written agreement regarding adoption of Stanley. The parties have made conflicting statements about an oral adoption agreement. Both Carlos and Estanislao agree, however, that giving Stanley to his paternal grandparents was in accordance with the custom of the Chamorro people, whereby grandparents may adopt a grandchild and raise him/her as their own. Statements from Carlos and Estanislao indicate that Carlos has treated Stanley as his own child and has had full responsibility for his support and parental supervision. [1] Carlos, his wife and Stanley moved to Guam in 1968. You have indicated that Carlos has never initiated legal adoption proceedings on Guam. [2] You inquired whether Guam would recognize the customary adoption in the Northern Mariana Islands in determining Stanley's right to inherit the wage earner's intestate personal property.

We sought the assistance of the Law Library of Congress in determining whether such a customary adoption would be recognized in the Northern Mariana Islands. An attorney there informed us that the Northern Mariana Islands adopted a constitution which became effective in 1978. Under this constitution, the Northern Marianas are basically self-governing but the laws of the Trust Territory of the Pacific (of which the Northern Marianas were a part until 1978) -remain in force wherever they are not inconsistent with the Northern Marianas' constitution and have not been amended by local statute.

To date, no statutes concerning family law or other "private law" matters have been adopted by the Northern Marianas' legislature. The Trust Territory Code would therefore apply to this case (at the time of the customary adoption (before the Northern Marianas' independence) and at the time of the claimant's 1980 application). Sections 4 and 5 of Title 39 of the Trust Territory Code [3] provide for the recognition and confirmation of adoptions effected in accordance with local custom. Whether a customary adoption of Stanley T~ by Carlos T~ took place in the Northern Marianas is a factual issue for you to decide.[4] If a valid customary adoption occurred, it would be considered valid under the Northern Marianas' law.

Assuming you find that a valid customary adoption of Stanley by Carlos and his wife took place on Saipan, the next issue to be addressed is whether Guam would recognize this customary adoption. The laws of the territory of Guam do not contain any provisions regarding the recognition of foreign adoptions. Although no foreign (e.g., U.S.) law has been incorporated to govern those areas where the territorial law is silent, we believe that the courts of Guam would employ the principle of comity[5] to accord validity to an adoption effectuated in compliance with the laws of a foreign jurisdiction, [6] in the absence of any public policy ground for refusing such recognition. We believe that Guam courts would find no public policy ground for refusing recognition of a customary adoption valid under Northern Mariana law. [7]

To determine whether the claimant may be treated as the adopted child of the wage earner under subsections 216(e) and 216(h) (2) of the Social Security Act (for purposes of entitlement to child's insurance benefits under subsection 202(d)), the law of Guam,' the wage earner's domicile at the time the application was filed, must be applied. As the analysis above indicated, we conclude that Guam, under the principle of comity, would recognize a valid customary adoption which took place in the Northern Mariana Islands. Section 257 of the Guam Probate Code provides that an adopted child succeeds to the estate of one who has adopted him or her, to the same extent as a natural child. Assuming you find a valid customary adoption took place in the Northern Mariana Islands, Stanley would, therefore, qualify as the wage earner's "child" under section 216(e) of the' Act.



The January 22, 1981, memorandum (in the claims file) from Michael G. regional representative on Saipan, discusses customary adoption in the Northern Mariana Islands, and stakes that "[i]n most cases the adoptive parents grant inheritance rights to the adopted child; sometimes in preference to their own natural children." Although Mr. N~ does not make it clear whether g. ranting such inheritance rights is mandatory to effect a legal customary adoption, the fact that Carlos allegedly designated Stanley to inherit one acre of land which he owns on Saipan supports a finding that a customary adoption has occurred.


For purpose of this opinion, we will assume that Carlos also did not initiate legal adoption proceedings in the Northern Mariana Islands, although you did not confirm that fact in your memorandum.


The latest update for the Trust Territory Code available to us is a 1975 supplement.


We note that Mr. N~ memorandum (see footnote 1) extensively discusses customary adoptions in the Northern Marianas', including requirements for a customary adoption and questions which should be answered to determine whether the requirements have been met.


The principle of comity applies between nations similar to the way in which full faith and credit applies among the States, except that comity has no statutory basis. (Article 4, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution established the full faith and credit doctrine.)


Compare Rogers v. Rogers, 1 Guam R. 613 (June 5, 1979).


See In the Matter of Adoption of S~, 1 Guam R. 270 (May 2, 1975), where the Superior Court granted a petition for adoption of a two year old child by a husband, 53, and wife, 54, the child's foster parents. The court determined that the adoption would best enhance the child's life and would be in the child's best interest, notwithstanding the ages of the adopting couple, as "the raising of young children into responsible adulthood by grandparents is common enough to the culture of this Island .... " 1 Guam R. at 272.

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