SSR 84-15: SECTIONS 202(d)(1) AND 216(h)(2)(A) (42 U.S.C. 402(d)(1) AND 416(h)(2)(A)) CHILD'S INSURANCE BENEFITS -- ORAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY -- INDIANA
20 CFR 404.350, 404.354(b), and 404.355(a)
- The claimants were born out of wedlock in Mississippi on December 13, 1965, and January 2, 1967, respectively. The worker is shown as the father on each claimant's birth certificate. On January 30, 1967, the worker and the claimants' mother were married in Mississippi. They separated in 1970, and on November 7, 1982, the worker died while domiciled in Indiana. At the time of his death, the worker was neither living with the claimants nor contributing to their support. Two of the worker's brothers and his mother stated that the worker had orally acknowledged that the claimants were his children. Under Indiana law, an illegitimate child can inherit from the putative father if the putative father marries the child's mother and acknowledges the child as his own. The acknowledgement need not be in writing. Oral acknowledgment, or acknowledgment by acts or conduct, is sufficient as long as there is evidence from sources other than the child's mother that is definitive, certain, and unequivocal. The statements made by the worker's relatives that he had orally acknowledge the claimants as his children constitute such evidence. Held, the claimants are the worker's children under 42 U.S.C. 416(h)(2)(A), and since the other entitlement requirements are met, they are due child's insurance benefits on his earnings record.
A question has been raised as to whether the claimants are entitled to child's insurance benefits on the worker's earnings record.
The claimants were born in Mississippi on December 13, 1965, and January 2, 1967, respectively. The worker is shown as the father on each claimant's birth certificate, although the information appears to have been provided by the mother. The worker and the claimants' mother were married in Mississippi on January 30, 1967. Sometime thereafter they moved to Indiana. The worker lived with the claimants and their mother until July 2, 1970, when he moved elsewhere and reportedly ceased contributing toward the claimants' support. The marriage was never formally dissolved. The worker died on November 7, 1982, while he and the claimants were domiciled in Indiana.
The worker orally acknowledged paternity of the two children. Statements from his mother and his two brothers suggest that the oral acknowledgment took place at least as early as the date of the marriage, and probably occurred as early as the date of each child's birth.
At the time of his death, the worker had not acknowledged in writing that the claimants were his children nor had he been decreed by a court to be their father or to contribute to their support. Thus, the only basis for the claimant's entitlement would be under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 416(h)(2)(A). Under that section:
- "In determining whether an applicant is the child . . . of a fully or currently insured individual for purposes of this title, the Secretary shall apply such law as would be applied in determining the devolution of intestate personal property . . . if such insured individual is dead, by the courts of the State in which he was domiciled at the time of his death. . . ."
Indiana law provides that one way inheritance rights may be conferred on an illegitimate child is ". . . (2) if the putative father marries the mother of the child and acknowledges the child to be his own." The law continues as follows:
- "The testimony of the mother may be received in evidence to establish such paternity and acknowledgment but no judgment shall be made upon the evidence of the mother alone. The evidence of the mother must be supported by corroborative evidence or circumstances."
Ind. Code Ann. 29-1-2-7 (West 1979) (identical to Ind. Ann. Stat. 6-207 (Burns 1953)).
At the time the Indiana statute was enacted in 1953, the Indiana Probate Code Study Commission commented that "Proof of acknowledgment as required in condition (2) above is left to the facts in each case as at present." Cases decided under the previous statute, which also did not set standards for acknowledgment, had held that oral statements or acts of "clear," "unambiguous," "definite," "certain," "plain," or "unequivocal" nature supported a finding of acknowledgment of an illegitimate child. Oral statements such as "the kid is dead-sure mine," the "only child I had," "the girl belongs to me," and "she is my daughter" were held sufficient. Townsend v. Menely, 74 N.E. 274 (Ind. App. 1905); Campbell v. Campbell, 124 N.E. 407 (Ind. App. 1919); Horner v. Boomershine, 161 N.E. 641 (Ind. App. 1928). Those prior standards have been cited with approval in cases arising under the present statute. Hooley v. Hooley, 226 N.E.2d 344 (Ind. App. 1967); Haskett v. Haskett, 327 N.E.2d 612 (Ind. App. 1975).
Accordingly, in Indiana, an acknowledgment need not be written. Oral acknowledgment, or acknowledgment by acts or conduct, is sufficient as long as there is evidence from sources other than the mother that is definite, certain, and unequivocal. Thus, a birth certificate standing alone is not a sufficient acknowledgment where the certificate appears to have been filled out without the knowledge or consent of the putative father. In this case, however, the mother's statements of paternity, on the birth certificate and elsewhere, are supported by corroborative evidence. For example, there are statements of relatives who heard the worker informally acknowledge the children. Therefore, under the above-cited language f the statute, as well as the controlling case law standards, a finding of oral acknowledgment, sufficient to confer inheritance rights, is supported under Indiana law. The claimants are the worker's children and, since the other entitlement requirements are met, they are due child's insurance benefits on his earnings record.
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