The Regional Commissioner in Kansas City requested our assistance in determining when
Peter H~ should be entitled to reinstatement of adult child's benefits. They asked
that we reply to you. Specifically, they asked whether a marriage that had never been
consummated and was subsequently annulled would be a void or voidable marriage according
to Ohio law. After researching the relevant state law, we believe that Peter H~'s
marriage was a voidable marriage, and, therefore, he became eligible for reinstatement
beginning with the month that his annulment decree issued.
Peter H~ received Social Security benefits as a disabled adult child from June 1987
until his benefits terminated due to his marriage on January 31, 1997. Mr. H~'s marriage
was annulled on April 6, 1998, due to non-consummation. Pursuant to the Ohio Revised
Code 31 § 3105.31(F), Mr. H~ requested reinstatement of his Social Security benefits
on April 16, 1998.
Peter H~ may be entitled to reinstatement of benefits effective on the month his marriage
was annulled. The Social Security Program Operations Manual System ("POMS") provides
that if a marriage is considered void according to state (Ohio) law, Mr. H~ can collect
benefits as if his marriage never happened. See POMS GN 00305.120 - GN 00305.125. Thus, if his marriage were void, Mr. H~ could collect retroactive benefits for the
entire duration of his marriage. However, if Mr. H~'s marriage is considered voidable,
his benefits may be reinstated effective on the month his annulment decree was entered.
See POMS GN 00305.130. Therefore we must look to Ohio law to determine whether Mr. H~'s annulment rendered
his marriage void or voidable.
The question whether an annulment for non-consummation of the marriage renders that
marriage void or voidable is not addressed by Ohio statute. However, the Ohio Code
clearly allows for non-consummation as ground for an annulment. Ohio Rev. Stat. 31
§ 3105.31(F). Ohio, like other states, treats a marriage that was annulled for non-consummation
as a voidable marriage. See Darling v. Darling, 335 N.E.2d 708, 710 (Ohio App. 1975); Lang v. Reetz-Lang, 488 N.E. 2d 929 (Ohio App. 1985); 4 Am. Jur. 2nd. Annul. § 4. Because the marriage
is voidable, it is valid until one of the parties obtains a court order annulling
Although, in Ohio, an annulment decree operates to hold the marriage as a nullity
as though it had never existed, this is a legal fiction used to promote justice between
the parties. See Darling, 335 N.E. 2d at 709. Ohio courts balance the interests of both parties to the annulment
when deciding whether to apply this "relation back doctrine" in order to promote public
policy. This doctrine should not be applicable, here, because the interests of the
two parties to the annulment decree are not at issue. Therefore, there is no public
policy reason to apply the relation back doctrine. Even if the relation back doctrine
were to be applied, this does not change the determination that marriages annulled
for non-consummation are voidable. Usually, it merely changes how the marital property
is distributed or the validity of a subsequent marriage.
For the forgoing reasons, we conclude that Mr. H~'s benefits should be reinstated
(on reapplication) as of the month of his annulment decree because his marriage was