Articles Posted in Family Law

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Married same-sex couples conceived children through anonymous sperm donation. Their babies were born in Arkansas in 2015. Each couple completed paperwork listing both female spouses as parents. The Department of Health issued birth certificates bearing only the birth mother’s name, based on Ark. Code 20–18–401, which states “the mother is deemed to be the woman who gives birth to the child … if the mother was married at the time of either conception or birth … the name of [her] husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.” Another man may appear on the birth certificate if the “mother,” “husband,” and “putative father” all file affidavits vouching for the putative father’s paternity. The requirement that a married woman’s husband appear on her child’s birth certificate applies if the couple conceived by means of artificial insemination by an anonymous sperm donor. The couples challenged the law. The trial court held that the challenged sections were inconsistent with the 2015 Supreme Court holding, Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Constitution entitles same-sex couples to civil marriage “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.” The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, finding the statute invalid because it denied married same-sex couples access to the “constellation of benefits” that Arkansas links to marriage. The law required the placement of the birth mother’s husband on the birth certificate even when the husband was “definitively not the biological father,” but did not impose the same requirement with respect to the birth mother’s wife. Same-sex parents lacked the same right as opposite-sex parents to be listed on a document used for important transactions like medical decisions or enrolling a child in school. View "Pavan v. Smith" on Justia Law

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A state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act authorizes states to treat veterans’ “disposable retired pay” as community property divisible upon divorce, 10 U.S.C. 1408, excluding amounts deducted from that pay “as a result of a waiver . . . required by law in order to receive” disability benefits. In their divorce, Sandra was awarded 50% of John’s future Air Force retirement pay, which she began to receive when John retired. Years later, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that John was partially disabled due to an earlier service-related injury. To receive disability pay, John gave up an equivalent amount of retirement pay, 38 U.S.C. 5305. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed a family court order that Sandra receive her full 50% regardless of the waiver. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. John’s military pay was subject to a future contingency. State courts cannot “vest” that which they lack the authority to give. Family courts remain free to consider the contingency that some military retirement pay might be waived or consider reductions in value when calculating or recalculating the need for spousal support. View "Howell v. Howell" on Justia Law

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V. L. and E. L. were in a relationship from 1995-2011. Through assisted reproductive technology, E. L. gave birth to a child. in 2002 and to twins in 2004. The women raised the children as joint parents. V. L. rented a house and filed a petition to adopt the children in Georgia. E. L. gave express consent to the adoption, without relinquishing her own parental rights. A final decree recognized both V. L. and E. L. as the legal parents of the children. The women ended their relationship in 2011, while living in Alabama. V.L filed suit, alleging that E. L. had denied her access to the children and interfered with her ability to exercise her parental rights. She asked the Alabama court to register the Georgia adoption judgment and award her custody or visitation rights. The Family Court of Jefferson County awarded V. L. scheduled visitation. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Georgia court had no subject-matter jurisdiction under Georgia law to enter a judgment allowing V. L. to adopt the children while still recognizing E. L.’s parental rights and that Alabama courts were not required to accord full faith and credit to that judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed on summary disposition, stating that the Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction; there is no established Georgia law to the contrary. View "V.L. v. E.L." on Justia Law

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Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Plaintiffs challenged the laws as violating the Fourteenth Amendment. The district courts ruled in their favor. The Sixth Circuit consolidated the cases and reversed. The Supreme Court reversed. The Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state. The Court noted other changes in the institution of marriage: the decline of arranged marriages, invalidation of bans on interracial marriage and use of contraception, and abandonment of the law of coverture. The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs. Marriage is a centerpiece of social order and fundamental under the Constitution; it draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. The marriage laws at issue harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples; burden the liberty of same-sex couples; and abridge central precepts of equality. There may be an initial inclination to await further legislation, litigation, and debate, but referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns; studies and other writings; and extensive litigation have led to an enhanced understanding of the issue. While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are central to their lives and faiths. View "Obergefell v. Hodges" on Justia Law

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Alvarez and Lozano lived with their daughter in London until November 2008, when Alvarez and the child moved to a women’s shelter. In July 2009, they left the U.K., ultimately settling in New York. Lozano did not locate them until November 2010. He filed a Petition for Return of Child pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Under the Convention, if a parent files a petition within one year of the child’s removal, a court “shall order the return of the child forthwith.” When the petition is filed after that period, the court is to order return, “unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.” Because it was filed more than one year after removal, the district court denied the petition, finding that the child was now settled. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. There is no presumption that equitable tolling applies to treaties and the parties to the Convention did not intend that it apply to the one-year period. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U. S. C. 11601–11610, enacted to implement the Convention, neither addresses equitable tolling nor purports to alter the Convention and, therefore, does not affect this conclusion. Even if the Convention were subject to a presumption that statutes of limitations may be tolled, the one-year period is not a statute of limitations. The remedy available to the left-behind parent continues to be available after one year; expiration of one year simply mandates consideration of a third party’s interests. The drafters did not choose to delay the period’s commencement until discovery of the child’s location. View "Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez" on Justia Law

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The California Supreme Court held that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the California Constitution; state voters then passed a ballot initiative, Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples who wished to marry filed suit in federal court, challenging Proposition 8. State officials refused to defend the law, so the district court allowed the initiative’s official proponents to intervene, declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and enjoined its enforcement. State officials declined to appeal. The intervenors appealed. The Ninth Circuit certified a question, which the California Supreme Court answered: official proponents of a ballot initiative have authority to assert the state’s interest to defend the constitutionality of the initiative when public officials refuse to do so. The Ninth Circuit concluded that petitioners had standing and affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, holding that the intervenors did not have standing to appeal. Article III of the Constitution confines the power of federal courts to deciding actual “Cases” or “Controversies.” A litigant must demonstrate a personal and tangible harm throughout all stages of litigation. The intervenors had standing to initiate this case against the California officials responsible for enforcing Proposition 8, but once the district court issued its order, they no longer had any injury to redress and state officials chose not to appeal. The intervenors had not been ordered to do or refrain from doing anything. Their “generalized grievance” is insufficient to confer standing. The fact that a state thinks a private party should have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance cannot override settled law to the contrary. View "Hollingsworth v. Perry" on Justia Law

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Windsor and Spyer, two women, married in Canada in 2007. Their home state, New York, recognized the marriage. Spyer died in 2009 and left her estate to Windsor, who sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. Her claim was barred by section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 28 U.S.C. 1738C, which defined “marriage” and “spouse” to exclude same-sex partners for purposes of federal law. Windsor paid $363,053 in taxes and sought a refund, which the IRS denied. Windsor sued, challenging DOMA. The Department of Justice declined to defend section 3’s constitutionality. The district court ordered a refund, finding section 3 unconstitutional. The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, 5-4, first holding that the government retained a stake, sufficient to support Article III jurisdiction, because the unpaid refund is “a real and immediate economic injury.” There was sufficient argument for section 3’s constitutionality to satisfy prudential concerns. DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons under the Fifth Amendment. Regulation of marriage has traditionally been within the authority of the states. DOMA, applicable to more than 1,000 federal statues and all federal regulations, was directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York and 11 other states have sought to protect. DOMA is inconsistent with the principle that marriage laws may vary from state to state, but are consistent within each state. A state’s decision to give a class of persons the right to marry confers a dignity and status of immense import. New York’s decision was a proper exercise of its sovereign authority. By seeking to injure the class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violated basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government. Constitutional guarantees of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of the group. DOMA’s history and text indicate a purpose and practical effect to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and a stigma upon those entering into same-sex marriages made lawful by the states. The law deprived some couples married under the laws of their states, but not others, of rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state; it diminished the stability and predictability of basic personal relations. View "United States v. Windsor" on Justia Law

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Alvarez and Lozano lived with their daughter in London until November 2008, when Alvarez and the child moved to a women’s shelter. In July 2009, they left the U.K., ultimately settling in New York. Lozano did not locate them until November 2010. He filed a Petition for Return of Child pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Under the Convention, if a parent files a petition within one year of the child’s removal, a court “shall order the return of the child forthwith.” When the petition is filed after that period, the court is to order return, “unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.” Because it was filed more than one year after removal, the district court denied the petition, finding that the child was now settled. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. There is no presumption that equitable tolling applies to treaties and the parties to the Convention did not intend that it apply to the one-year period. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U. S. C. 11601–11610, enacted to implement the Convention, neither addresses equitable tolling nor purports to alter the Convention and, therefore, does not affect this conclusion. Even if the Convention were subject to a presumption that statutes of limitations may be tolled, the one-year period is not a statute of limitations. The remedy available to the left-behind parent continues to be available after one year; expiration of one year simply mandates consideration of a third party’s interests. The drafters did not choose to delay the period’s commencement until discovery of the child’s location. View "Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez" on Justia Law

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The California Supreme Court held that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the California Constitution; state voters then passed a ballot initiative, Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples who wished to marry filed suit in federal court, challenging Proposition 8. State officials refused to defend the law, so the district court allowed the initiative’s official proponents to intervene, declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and enjoined its enforcement. State officials declined to appeal. The intervenors appealed. The Ninth Circuit certified a question, which the California Supreme Court answered: official proponents of a ballot initiative have authority to assert the state’s interest to defend the constitutionality of the initiative when public officials refuse to do so. The Ninth Circuit concluded that petitioners had standing and affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, holding that the intervenors did not have standing to appeal. Article III of the Constitution confines the power of federal courts to deciding actual “Cases” or “Controversies.” A litigant must demonstrate a personal and tangible harm throughout all stages of litigation. The intervenors had standing to initiate this case against the California officials responsible for enforcing Proposition 8, but once the district court issued its order, they no longer had any injury to redress and state officials chose not to appeal. The intervenors had not been ordered to do or refrain from doing anything. Their “generalized grievance” is insufficient to confer standing. The fact that a state thinks a private party should have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance cannot override settled law to the contrary. View "Hollingsworth v. Perry" on Justia Law

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Windsor and Spyer, two women, married in Canada in 2007. Their home state, New York, recognized the marriage. Spyer died in 2009 and left her estate to Windsor, who sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. Her claim was barred by section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 28 U.S.C. 1738C, which defined “marriage” and “spouse” to exclude same-sex partners for purposes of federal law. Windsor paid $363,053 in taxes and sought a refund, which the IRS denied. Windsor sued, challenging DOMA. The Department of Justice declined to defend section 3’s constitutionality. The district court ordered a refund, finding section 3 unconstitutional. The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, 5-4, first holding that the government retained a stake, sufficient to support Article III jurisdiction, because the unpaid refund is “a real and immediate economic injury.” There was sufficient argument for section 3’s constitutionality to satisfy prudential concerns. DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons under the Fifth Amendment. Regulation of marriage has traditionally been within the authority of the states. DOMA, applicable to more than 1,000 federal statues and all federal regulations, was directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York and 11 other states have sought to protect. DOMA is inconsistent with the principle that marriage laws may vary from state to state, but are consistent within each state. A state’s decision to give a class of persons the right to marry confers a dignity and status of immense import. New York’s decision was a proper exercise of its sovereign authority. By seeking to injure the class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violated basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government. Constitutional guarantees of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of the group. DOMA’s history and text indicate a purpose and practical effect to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and a stigma upon those entering into same-sex marriages made lawful by the states. The law deprived some couples married under the laws of their states, but not others, of rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state; it diminished the stability and predictability of basic personal relations. View "United States v. Windsor" on Justia Law