20 CFR 404.313(a), 404.1101, and 404.1103

SSR 72-49

When female claimant ceremonially married worker in Alabama when she was age 13 and Alabama statue provided that female under age of 14 was incapable of contracting marriage, held, in absence of court decree of annulment, the marriage remains merely voidable and not void under Alabama law; therefore, claimant for wife's insurance benefits (meeting all other requirements) is entitled to benefits.

W, a claimant for wife's insurance benefits, was ceremonially married to R, the worker, in 1919 at age 13 in the State of Alabama. The marriage record was falsified to read age 18. W remarried in 1944 in the belief her underage marriage to R had been annulled. this subsequent remarriage ended in divorce in 1946. A search of pertinent Alabama records discloses no annulment of the marriage between R and W. W alleges she was never served with divorce or annulment papers and R states he had never initiated such proceedings.

The issue thus presented is whether an underage marriage in Alabama is void or merely voidable; if voidable, W is entitled to wife's insurance benefits (all other requirements being met); if void, she is not so entitled.

It appears that the minimum age at which a person was capable of contracting marriage in Alabama in 1919 was the same as it is now under the Code of alabama, Title 34 § 4, namely, 17 for a male and 14 for a female. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of Alabama in Owen v. Coffy, 201 Ala. 531, 78 So. 885 (1918), held that a marriage contracted by a female under age 14 was not void but voidable, and could only be annulled by a court action. The court in that case stated:

The contract of marriage into which the parties had entered was not void, but voidable only (Beggs v. State, 55 Ala. 108), at the election of appellee, to be declared through the agency of a court of competent jurisdiction. Until so disaffirmed, such a marriage is for some purposes a marriage in fact. The second marriage of either party is bigamy; "Marriage in the sense of the completed matrimonial engagement is unlike any other contract known to the law, chiefly because it cannot be terminated or dissolved by the parties, but only by the sovereign power of the state," 26 Cyc. 827. See Garner v. State, 9 Ala. App. 60, 64 South 183 (1913). If appellee had capacity to become a party to such imperfect, inchoate, or voidable marriage, so that a second marriage, pending the first, would be bigamous (Garner v. State, supra), she should be allowed to disaffirm at any time, before it ripened into an absolute marriage, by invoking the authority of the court to that end.

Similarly, the Alabama Supreme Court held in the case of Garner v. State, supra, that the marriage of a male under the statutory age of consent was merely voidable, but not void. The Court there said:

The first marriage in this case is shown by the evidence to have been a completed matrimonial engagement, not void, but at most voidable only as to the defendant because at the time of entering into it he was under the age of consent prescribed by statute. Code, § 4879. Marriage being a civil or social institution intended and calculated to promote the present comfort and future happiness of the human family, and fixing as it does a status between the contracting parties which society in general has the deepest interest in maintaining in its integrity and purity, it could not be annulled or disaffirmed by the mere ipse dixit of the defendant in renunciation or denial of it, or by his reputation of the wife at his election for this or any other cause, but the dissolution, annulment, termination, or disaffirmance of the voidable marriage could only be accomplished by the sovereign power of the state, speaking through a duly constituted tribunal having jurisdiction in the premises, 26 Cyc. 899.
It will be seen that it is our opinion that the fact that the defendant at the time of his first marriage was under the statutory age of consent is no defense to a charge of bigamy for contracting a second marriage unless the first marriage had been judicially annulled on the ground. . . .

In 35 American Jurisprudence, Section 16, page 189 (1942 E.d) it is said:

Subject to constitutional limitations and restrictions, it is within the legislative power to determine the age at which persons can marry. In the absence of any statutory provision on the subject, the age at which infants are regarded as having capacity to enter into a marriage contract is fourteen years for males and twelve years for females. The matter is now generally regulated by statue, however, which in most jurisdictions has materially increased the age requirement. It has been ruled that a statute fixing the age of consent in defining statutory rape does not alter the common-law rule with respect to capacity to marry.

Since no court action had been taken by either party to dissolve or annual their marriage of 1919, even though they may have lived together for only 4 months, the marriage remains only voidable. W's marriage in 1944 and divorce in 1946 has no effect on her earlier marriage to R since the 1944 marriage was bigamous and void. Owen v. Coffy, supra.

Accordingly, it is held that W is entitled to the wife's insurance benefits for which she applied since her voidable underage marriage to the worker was never terminated in accordance with State statutes.

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