The Office of General Counsel issued the following opinion on July 21, 2005, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.
Re: Proof of Marriage For Auto Insurance
Does the New York Insurance Law, or the regulations promulgated thereunder, require a married couple who retain different last names to provide proof of matrimony when applying for automobile insurance at the marital rate?
Neither the New York Insurance Law nor the regulations promulgated thereunder require married couples, whether retaining different last names or not, to provide proof of matrimony when applying for automobile insurance at the marital rate. However, pursuant to an insurers underwriting guidelines it may make inquiries intended to confirm that parties are eligible for the marital rate.
An inquirer stated that she and her spouse had applied for automobile insurance and that the insurer required proof of matrimony because the couple have different last names. The inquirer stated that when she asked the insurer why proof of matrimony was required only of married couples with different last names and not of all couples who represent themselves as married, the insurer informed her that this was an Insurance Department policy.
The inquirer noted that she or her husband could conceivably apply for automobile insurance at the marital rate with someone who has the same last name but whom, in reality, is not a spouse.
Neither the New York Insurance Law nor the regulations promulgated thereunder require married couples retaining different last names to provide proof of matrimony when applying for automobile insurance at the marital rate.
N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 11, § 60-1.1 (Regulation 35-A) states:
An "owner's policy of liability insurance", as defined in Section 311 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, shall contain in substance the following minimum provisions or provisions which are equally or more favorable to the insured and judgment creditors, so far as such provisions relate to judgment creditors:
* * *
(c) A provision insuring as "insured":
(1) the named insured and, if an individual, his or her spouse if a resident of the same household with respect to the motor vehicle or vehicles;
Thus, a spouse residing in the same household as the insured is also covered under the insureds automobile liability insurance policy as an insured. The Department does not consider it unreasonable for an insurer to require proof of matrimony from applicants of automobile insurance since the regulations require the insurer to include an insured's spouse as an insured under the policy.
N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 11, § 160.2 (g) (Regulation 57) states in relevant part:
(g) Prevention of improperly charged rates. Insurers shall establish adequate procedures to minimize the occurrence of improperly charged rates and shall in fact pursue such procedures.
The inquirer's insurer's rates vary based on marital status of the insured. Under the Department's regulations, it must take steps, and keep adequate files and records, to minimize the occurrence of improperly charged rates. It is likely that the insurer requires marital proof in compliance with this mandate. We suspect that persons with different last names are asked to provide marital proof because there are a large number of individuals who cohabitate but are not married. It is less likely that an applicant is misrepresenting his or her marital status when the last names of the applicants are the same and both persons reside in the same household.
For further information you may contact Associate Attorney Sally Geisel at the New York City Office.