Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Will Rhode Island Divorce Same-Sex Couple From Massachusetts?

Two lesbians married in Massachusetts have filed for divorce in Rhode Island, setting up a legal conundrum for judges in a state where the laws are silent on the legality of same-sex marriage. Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston of Providence were married after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. They filed for divorce in Rhode Island on Oct. 23, citing irreconcilable differences, Chambers's attorney, Louis M. Pulner, said Wednesday. Ormiston declined to comment. Rhode Island Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. has yet to decide whether his court has jurisdiction and said he thinks it is the first filing for a same-sex divorce in the state. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 5." By Ray Henry, Associated Press, Link to Article (last visited 11-29-06 NVS)

November 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

N. J. Proposal To Grant Rights But Not Title of Marriage

"Conservative groups in New Jersey are pushing a proposal that would grant the rights of marriage -- but not the title -- to gays, siblings and others involved in domestic partnerships. The plan comes in reaction to a landmark Supreme Court ruling last month that said gay couples in New Jersey should have access to the same rights and benefits as married couples. Whether to call those rights marriages, civil unions or something else was left up to lawmakers. Under the conservatives' plan, rights would be available to gay couples, relatives and other twosomes who are not eligible to marry, said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council. Unrelated opposite-sex couples, who can legally marry, would not be eligible for the designation." Associated Press, N.Y. Times Link to Article (last visited 11-19-06 NVS)

November 30, 2006 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Maryland Webcast of Gay Marriage Arguments

"Maryland's highest court is launching a project for live Webcasting of its sessions, hoping to be ready in time to broadcast arguments set for Dec. 4 in a high-profile case involving gay marriage. The first Webcast is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, giving the court a little time to solve problems that might develop before the gay marriage case is argued next week. The state is asking the high court to overturn a circuit court ruling that the Maryland law defining marriage as between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. ''It's all part of this outreach thing,'' Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals told The (Baltimore) Sun. ''Other courts have done it. I don't see why we shouldn't do it.''" Associated Press, N.Y. Times Link to Article (last visited 11-29-06 NVS)

November 30, 2006 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Case Law Development: FPKPA Requires Virginia Must Enforce Custody Determination of Vermont Court in Civil Union Dissolution

Virginia has taken a step toward resolution of the on-going tension over whether Virginia would recognize a Vermont civil union between two women as providing a basis for custody rights in the non-biological parent-partner (See Family Law Prof Blog postings of August 7 and March 15) The Virginia court of appeals today unanimously accepted a ruling of the Vermont Supreme Court that conferred parental rights on both women. The court ruled that the trial court erred in failing to recognize that the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act prevented its exercise of jurisdiction and required it to give full faith and credit to the custody and visitation orders of the Vermont court. Because biological mother filed papers in Vermont to dissolve the civil union in 2003, the appeals court said, the Vermont courts thereby gained sole jurisdiction over custody and visitation issues concerning the child born during their union.

Regarding the effect of the federal and state DOMA acts, the court concluded

Nothing in the wording or the legislative history of DOMA indicates that it was designed to affect the PKPA and related custody and visitation determinations. Simply put, DOMA allows a state to deny recognition to same-sex marriage entered into in another state. This case does not place before us the question whether Virginia recognizes the civil union entered into by the parties in Vermont. Rather, the only question before us is whether, considering the PKPA, Virginia can deny full faith and credit to the orders of the Vermont court regarding IMJ’s custody and visitation. It cannot. The law of Vermont granted the Vermont court jurisdiction to render those decisions. By filing her complaint in Vermont, Lisa invoked the jurisdiction of the Vermont court. She placed herself and the child before that court and laid before it the assertions and prayers that formed the bases of its orders. By operation of the PKPA, her choice of forum precluded the courts of this Commonwealth from entertaining countervailing assertions and prayers.

Janet Miller-Jenkins v. Lisa Miller-Jenkins (November 28, 2006)
Opinion on web (last visited November 28, 2006)

November 29, 2006 in Custody (parenting plans) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Case Law Development: Rooker-Feldman Doctrine and Family Law Cases

How are family law cases faring in the federal courts lately?  Several recent decisions have helped clarify the boundaries of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, whose power to keep family law cases out of the federal courts has clearly waned in recent years.

For example, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of an action by Wife, seeking a declaration that her post-nuptial agreement was unconstitutional.  The agreement contained a no-challenge clause providing that if Wife challenged in court any provision of the agreement (including custody or visitation of the childrne) she would forfeit the $ 1.5 million paid in consideration by her husband.  Wife sued the state trial judge that had enforced the forfeiture when she sought to enforce and modify the agreement regarding custody, seeking a declaration that the judge could not enforce the agreement.  The district court granted a motion to dismiss under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. In affirming, the court held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applied because (1) the wife was a party in state court and had obtained a final judgment from the highest state court in which review could be sought; (2) the wife had a reasonable opportunity to raise her federal constitutional claims in the state-court proceedings; and (3) the issue before the federal district court was inextricably intertwined with the state-court decision because the wife's claims succeeded only to the extent that the federal district court determined that the state courts wrongly decided the issues.  The court rejected Wife's argument that the United States Supreme Court had "interred" the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in Lance v. Dennis, 126 S. Ct. 1198 (2006), noting that the Court there had simply clarified the distinction between that doctrine and the general doctrine of preclusion. Morris v. Wroble, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 28581 (11th Cir. November 16, 2006)(unpublished). 

The Seventh Circuit applied the same reasoning to affirm dismissal of an ex-wife's claims that her ex-husband, his attorney and their marriage counselor had deprived her of marital property and child custody by their misconduct in her divorce proceedings.  Because the injuries were the result of the state court judgment, the court concluded that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the district court from considering claims. Sielck v. Sielck,  2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 25159 (7th Circuit October 5, 2006).

In other cases, however, the courts have found the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not preclude suits arising out of family law matters.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrestled with the doctrine in a case in which current and retired members of the armed forces whose retirement pay has been divided in state divorce proceedings, and an association representing such members, sued the Secretary of Defense. The plaintiffs claimed their due process and equal protection rights were violated by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (Act), which allows states to divide military retirement pay upon divorce and establishes a payments mechanism implementing the division.  The district court had dismissed the individual plaintiffs' claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, reasoning that these plaintiffs impermissibly sought appellate review of their underlying state court divorce decrees.  While the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal on other grounds, they concluded that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction.  The court reasoned that at least some of the plaintiffs

are not attempting to appeal unfavorable state court decisions. ... A federal court declaration that the Act is unconstitutional would invalidate the statutory basis for the federal payments mechanism and effectively prevent DFAS from continuing to transmit payments based on a state court decree. Such a declaration would not, however, amount to appellate reversal or modification of a valid state court decree entered in an individual plaintiff's divorce case. At bottom, an examination of the federal constitutional challenge presented here against the Act does not require scrutinizing and invalidating any individual state court judgment. Contrary to the view expressed in the concurring opinion, the test is not whether the relief sought in the federal suit "would certainly upset" the enforcement of a state court decree, but rather whether the relief would "reverse or modify" the state court decree.....The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, contracted as it has been by the Supreme Court's recent decisions, therefore did not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction in this case.

Adkins v. Rumsfeld, 464 F.3d 456 (4th Cir. September 18, 2006)

Most recently, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado denied motions to dismiss complaints by parents in child welfare proceedings against state social service agency workers claiming that the workers had acted to deprive the parents of contact with their children because of discrimination against the parent's fundamentalist Christian viewpoint.  The opinion provides a straightforward explanation of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, explaining that the action here is not barred because the parents do not seek to overturn the state court dependency action but to obtain damages for the constitutional violations they claim arose during that action.  Starkey v. Boulder County Soc. Servs., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84768 (D. Colo. November 21, 2006)

Similarly, in an unpublished opinion, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply to a 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 suit complaining that father's rights were violated when he was ordered to undergo mental examination during state court custody dispute because father did not complain of injuries caused by the custody judgment or seek to overturn it.   The court did dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, however, because the judge and the court-appointed evaluators were entiteld to judicial immunity and wife's attorney could not be said to be acting under color of state law. Shallow v. Rogers, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 26941 (3rd Circuit October 27, 2006).

(All web opinions last visited November 27, 2006 bgf)

November 28, 2006 in Jurisdiction | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gov. Romney Sues Legislature Over Same-sex Marriage

"Gov. Mitt Romney filed a lawsuit Friday asking the state’s highest court to order the legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage or to place it on the 2008 ballot if lawmakers do not take up the provision. The legislature voted 109 to 87 on Nov. 9 to recess a constitutional convention before the measure was taken up, which appeared to kill it. The convention was recessed until Jan. 2, the last day of the legislative session. More than 170,000 people have signed a petition asking the legislature to amend the state’s Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Massachusetts is the only state that permits it.

Mr. Romney, a Republican who did not seek re-election but is considering running for president, announced plans to file the lawsuit at a rally of same-sex marriage opponents on Sunday. The next day he sent a letter to the 109 lawmakers who had voted to recess, saying they were “frustrating the democratic process and subverting the plain meaning of the Constitution” by refusing to vote. The lawsuit, filed by Mr. Romney, acting as a private citizen, and 10 other opponents of same-sex marriage, said the legislature had a “legal duty to act” on citizen petitions but had relied on procedural devices to “avoid a vote and evade its constitutional duties.” The legislature recessed before voting on the measure two other times this session."By Katie Zezima, N.Y. Times Link to Article (last visted 11-27-06 NVS)

November 28, 2006 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Man Sentenced for Knowingly Exposing Women to HIV

"An HIV-positive man accused of knowingly exposing three women to the virus has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison. Robert Richardson II, 30, apologized at his sentencing Wednesday, but he argued that while his behavior was unethical, it wasn't criminal. Richardson was found guilty last month of four counts of HIV exposure involving three women, and he was found not guilty of exposing a fourth woman.

Jurors said they were appalled by how he deceived the women by telling them his health problems were from a heart condition. Richardson said he didn't lie, and that he did have a "HAART" condition -- short for Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy, the name he used for his HIV-treatment drug regimen." Link to Article (last visited 11-27-06 NVS)

November 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Four in Ten Babies Born Outside of Marriage

"More American women than ever are putting motherhood before matrimony. New data released by the Centers for Disease Control show that nearly four in 10 U.S. babies were born outside of marriage in 2005—a new high. These unwed moms aren't all teens—last year teen pregnancies fell to their lowest levels in 65 years. Some—like 44-year-old Mary Lee MacKichan, who used a gay friend as a sperm donor—are professional, older women who want to have babies before their biological clocks run out, but most are low-income twentysomethings. (Unwed births among 30- to 44-year-olds are up 17 percent since 1991; among those 25 to 29, they're up 30 percent.) And some 40 percent of those moms aren't going it alone—they're cohabiting, at least for a while. That's creating a major shift in what a generation of children are coming to call a family." By Debra Rosenberg and Pat Wingert, Newsweek, MSNBC Link to Article (last visited 11-27-06 NVS)

November 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 27, 2006

AIDS Orphans in Africa

Robyn Dixon of the LA Times reports on the rise of orphans in Africa as a result on AIDS. In 1990, nine years after the AIDS virus was identified, the infection rate among adults was less than 1%. Since then, the infection rate in Southern Africa now is more than 15%.  The statistics have been repeated so often they cease to shock, even as they soar: 25 million people have died worldwide. Forty million are living with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and as many as 14.5 million children have been orphaned by the disease, according to UNAIDS.  The report includes a video on AIDs orphans in Swaziland:  where half of all kids are projected to be orphans in 10-15 years.
Read the article (last visited November 27, 2006 bgf)

November 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Campaign to End Domestic Violence in Europe

The BBC reports that Spain's prime minister has launched a campaign against domestic violence in Europe, calling it one of the worst forms of human rights violations.  Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was speaking to hundreds of delegates from the Council of Europe's member states.  According to the Council, almost a quarter of women in Europe have suffered physical or sexual attack.  Mr Zapatero said there could be no room for such abuse and that women must not feel abandoned by society.

Read the entire article (last visited November 27, 2006 bgf)

November 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)