SSR 81-11c: SECTION 202(d)(1) (42 U.S.C. 402(d)(1)) ANNULMENT OF A VOIDABLE MARRIAGE -- REINSTATEMENT OF CHILD'S INSURANCE BENEFITS
20 CFR 404.350 and 404.352
PURGANAN V. HARRIS, U.S.D.C., N.D. of California, Civ. No. C-79- 0655-WAI(3/11/80)
- The claimant's entitlement to child's insurance benefits was terminated in June 1976 when she married. The marriage was annulled in December 1976 under a provision of California state law which provides that a marriage is voidable and may be adjudged a nullity if at the time of the marriage the consent of either party was obtained by fraud. Although benefits were reinstated effective with the month the annulment was granted, the claimant contended that benefits should have been reinstated effective with the month of marriage. Held,the claimant's marriage remained valid until the date of the nullifying decree, even though the decree effectively rendered the marriage void from its inception. Further held, because the marriage was voidable rather than void, the claimant was not entitled to reinstatement of benefits for the months that she was married.
INGRAM, District Judge.
This appeal is taken from the decision of the Administrative Law Judge that claimant Mary Grace Purganan lost her entitlement to student child's insurance benefits for the duration of her marriage, which was later annulled.
Claimant received insurance benefits through May, 1976. Those benefits were terminated effective June, 1976, pursuant to Section 202(d)(1)(D) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(D), which provides for termination of benefits upon marriage or death.
Claimant was married in a civil ceremony on June 10, 1976. Claimant had been promised by her spouse that they would also have a religious ceremony. Her spouse reneged on his promise to have a later religious wedding, and claimant subsequently ceased cohabitation with him.
The marriage was annulled by the California Superior Court on December 24, 1976, pursuant to California Civil Code § 4425(d), which provides:
- A marriage is voidable and may be adjudged a nullity if any of the following conditions existed at the time of the marriage:
- (d) The consent of either party was obtained by fraud . . . .
In her decision, the Administrative Law Judge distinguished a void marriage from a voidable marriage. Relying on United States v. Diogo, 320 F.2d 898 (2d Cir. 1963), the judge observed that a void marriage is legally non-existent, while a voidable marriage remains valid until a nullifying decree, even though the decree effectively renders the marriage void ab initio.
The Administrative Law Judge found the marriage here was voidable under California Civil Code § 4425(d). That finding is supported by substantial evidence. Given that the marriage was voidable rather than void, the judge properly concluded that claimant was not entitled to reinstatement of benefits for the duration of the marriage.
Both claimant and the Secretary cite Pearsall v. Folsom, 138 F.Supp. 939 (N.D. Cal. 1956), aff'd, 245 F.2d 562 (9th Cir. 1957). Pearsall held that a claimant returned to unmarried status and regained the right to benefits once the marriage was annulled. The district court plainly stated, however, that "certainly the [claimant] should not be allowed to claim against the fund for the period of the . . . marriage before its annulment . . . ." (138 F.Supp. at 943).
The California cases cited by claimant lend no support to her position. In McDonald v. McDonald, 6 Cal. 2d 457 (1936), the court stated that the "parties may or may not exercise their legal right to have [voidable marriages] annuled and if they do not exercise such right, the marriages are binding[.]" Clark v. City of Los Angeles, 187 C.A.2d 792 (1960) did not concern reinstatement of benefits discontinued during a voidable marriage.
The Administrative Law Judge noted that the state court judgment was one of nullity and dissolution, as opposed to a decree of nullity alone. The judge found that the term "dissolution" indicates that the marriage must actually have existed. This Court believes that position is supported by California Civil Code § 4429, which says "The effect of a judgment of nullity is to restore the parties to the status of unmarried persons," (emphasis added), and Civil Code § 4501, which says, "The effect of a judgment decreeing a dissolution of the marriage is to restore the parties to the status of unmarried persons." (Emphasis added).
Claimant, however, argues that courts have not looked to the language of a decree of annulment to distinguish a void from a voidable marriage, but have relied upon public policy considerations in deciding whether to grant Social Security benefits.
Assuming this to be true, policy factors do not favor claimant's position. This Court concurs int he reasoning of Legory v. Finch, 424 F.2d 406, 411 (3d Cir. 1970), a widow's benefit case:
- The rational for not awarding benefits during the de facto existence of the remarriage is clear. The Social Security Act is intended to provide economic support to a widow who has been deprived of her husband. When the widow remarries she becomes, at least during the existence of that remarriage, entitled to support from her new husband. An additional award of Social Security benefits for the period would be inequitable. (Citations omitted).
Claimant's lack of financial support from her spouse during their marriage is unfortunate, but Congress chose martial (sic) status, not financial dependency, as the determinative factor in eligibility for benefits. Whether marriage is an accurate barometer of the need for continued student child's benefits is a decision best left to Congress.
The decision of the Administrative Law Judge is hereby affirmed. Summary judgment is granted for the defendant.
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