Family Law Prof Blog

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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Garbling Contractual Language & the Dodgers

The ownership of the Dodgers might hinge on a lawyer’s mistake in drafting a marital property agreement.  According to, the lawyer drafting the agreement recently “took the stand and admitted he changed the document after it was signed--without consulting the McCourts--to list Frank McCourt's sole property as ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’ of the Dodgers.”  This was to correct an initial mistake in the agreement.  On the stand, the lawyer said, “Sometimes I garble the language.”  Read more here.


September 25, 2010 in Property Division | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sperm Donation in the News

Newsweek published an article last week summarizing the latest developments in the ongoing discussion about sperm donation and its long-term effects on children and families.

Over the summer, two movies that both used sperm donors as plot devices sent the conservative “commentariat” into a conniption. After Jennifer Aniston, who plays a woman who uses a sperm donor to become pregnant in The Switch, advocated for a broad definition of family (“Love is love, and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere”), Bill O’Reilly took to the airwaves to blast her attitude as “destructive to society.”  And The Kids Are All Right (an indie confection about a lesbian couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, raising two kids conceived with an anonymous sperm donor) drew the venom of New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, who dubbed it a “Hollywood … end run around morality.”

But behind the heated rhetoric, a much more serious campaign is underway. The opening salvo on this latest front in the culture wars came in May when a study, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor,”  found that donor offspring are more likely to “struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression,” and “experience profound struggles with their origins and identities.” The study, funded by the Institute for American Values, offered a prescription: laws requiring sperm donors to reveal their identities to their offspring.

While that may seem wholly rational, dig a little deeper, and it’s clear there’s a broader agenda at work. The Institute for American Values has for the last 23 years sought to guard heterosexual marriages from the threats of homosexuality—and for lesbians looking to start a family, sperm donation is often involved. The IAV, though, does not stop there. “When we’re talking about sperm donation, I have real concerns about anybody using it,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, the vice president of family studies at IAV and a coauthor of the study. “If a married heterosexual couple came to me and said, ‘We’re thinking about this,’ I’d say I’m opposed. But definitely, the single-mom-by-choice offspring, based on our data, are hurting the most.” She adds: “It’s just a high-risk strategy, emotionally or otherwise, for creating a baby.”

In other words, IAV looks most askance on unmarried mothers—which, given their stance against gay marriage, includes lesbian mothers. It’s an attitude that’s becoming increasingly at odds with public opinion; a recent study by Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell found that 68 percent of his survey’s respondents view same-sex couples with children as a family, up from 54 percent in 2003.

Women who have used sperm donors bristle at the assertion that they’re damaging their children. “They’re trying to scare people in trying to say that these children will be tortured and miserable. It’s just not true,” says Jane Mattes, 67, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist who founded Single Mothers by Choice in 1981; her son is now 30. The IAV and others on the right, she says, are “getting smarter. Instead of saying the women shouldn’t do this, they’re saying the children will suffer, which is really sad. Children suffer for all sorts of reasons, often not having to do with conception.”

The need to equate donor conception with adoption is an important part of this strategy—and speaks to IAV’s ideological underpinnings. “Adoption is treated like an institution and donor conception is treated like a market,” Marquardt says. “That little insight explains a lot! What’s funny is that over the years, when I’ve talked to people about this issue, one of the common reactions is having a baby with a sperm donor—isn’t that just like adoption? But adoption is a good and vital pro-child institution that finds families for children who need them.” Adoption is also highly regulated, involving home screenings and background checks; why, they argue, should sperm or egg donation be any different? It’s a subtle way of arguing that life begins not just at conception, but preconception.

Read the full article here.


September 24, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Douglas & Walsh: “Mothers, Domestic Violence, and Child Protection, Violence Against Women”

Heather Douglas (The University of Queensland - TC Beirne School of Law) & Tamara Walsh (University of Queensland) have posted Mothers, Domestic Violence, and Child Protection, 16 Violence Against Women, 489-508 (2010) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article explores the relationship between understandings of domestic violence and the child protection response drawing on material gathered in focus groups with workers who support mothers dealing with both domestic violence and child protection issues. The interviewees expressed concern that the dynamics of domestic violence are often misunderstood and inappropriately responded to by child protection workers.This article critically examines the interviewees’ concerns and concludes that to properly protect children, it is crucial that child protection workers have a clear understanding of the dynamics of and issues related to domestic violence.


September 24, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Florida Appellate Court Overturns State's Ban on Gay Adoption

From The Miami Herald:

A state appeals court on Wednesday struck down Florida's controversial ban on adoptions by gay men and women as unconstitutional, and Gov. Charlie Crist and the state's child-welfare chief announced hours later they will immediately cease to enforce the ban.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal in West Miami-Dade said there is no ``rational basis'' for excluding gay men and lesbians from the pool of potential adoptive parents, upholding a November 2008 opinion by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman.

Calling Wednesday ``a very good day for Florida'' and ``a great day for children,'' Crist told reporters his administration will immediately cease enforcing the statute, which has held sway over Florida child welfare policy since 1977, when the Legislature voted overwhelmingly to exclude gays and lesbians from adopting.

The appeal court acknowledged its ruling is likely to be appealed. ``Our ruling,'' the panel wrote, ``is unlikely to be the last word.''

On Wednesday, Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose office represented the state in the case, declined to say what action he will take.

Read more news coverage here or the Florida court of appeals opinion here: Download FL Adoption Case.


September 23, 2010 in Adoption, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Understaffed Swedish Hospital an Uncomfortable Stay for New Mother

From the Local:

Mother-of-two Elin Andersson has highlighted staffing shortage problems at a maternity ward in Sundsvall in northern Sweden after she was asked to clean out her own hospital room just two days after giving birth by caesarean section.

Every time Andersson required medicine she had to call staff to remind them, she told local newspaper Sundsvalls Tidning. The new baby's father meanwhile was requested to aid in the care of his partner.

Two days after the operation, the recovering mum decided she was ready to go home.

“That was when the midwife said I had one final task to perform. Then she went and got a big white laundry bag and asked me to clean out the room and the bed where I had lain,” she told the newspaper.

Two midwives at the Sundsvall maternity ward admitted that Elin Andersson painted an accurate picture of their workplace.

Read more here.


September 23, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Evolving Views of "Family"

USA Today reports on the shifting societal view of what constitutes a family:

How "family" is defined is a crucial question on many levels. Beyond the debate over same-sex marriage, it affects income tax filings, adoption and foster care practices, employee benefits, inheritance rights and countless other matters.

The new research on the topic is contained in a book-length study, "Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definition of Family" and in a separate 2010 survey overseen by the book's lead author, Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell.

Between 2003 and 2010, three surveys conducted by Powell's team showed a significant shift toward counting same-sex couples with children as family — from 54% of respondents in 2003 to 68% in 2010. In all, more than 2,300 people were surveyed.

Powell linked the changing attitudes to a 10% rise between 2003 and 2010 in the share of survey respondents who reported having a gay friend or relative.

"This indicates a more open social environment in which individuals now feel more comfortable discussing and acknowledging sexuality," Powell said.

Only about one-third of those surveyed said they considered same-sex couples without children to be a family. And in 2006, when asked if gay couples and pets count as family, 30% said pets count but not gay couples.

"The sheer idea that gay couples are given less status than pets should give us pause," Powell said in an interview.

In the 2010 survey, 83% of the respondents said they perceived unmarried heterosexual couples with children as a family; only 40% extended that recognition to unmarried straight couples without children.

In line with several recent national opinion polls, Powell's 2010 survey showed a near-even split on same-sex marriage — with 52% supporting it and 48% opposed.

Read the full store here.


September 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lost In Translation

CNN had a recent article for parents on the language used by kids doing drugs.  Read it here.


September 22, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MSU Searching for Endowed Chair in Matrimonial Law

Michigan State University College of Law seeks a distinguished family law scholar for the John F. Schaefer Endowed Chair in Matrimonial Law.  Applicants should have distinguished academic records, demonstrated teaching ability or relevant work experience, and an established record of scholarly achievement. 

 Michigan State University is the nation’s premier land-grant university, established in 1855. More information about the Law College can be found at

MSU is committed to achieving excellence through cultural diversity.  The University actively encourages applications from and nominations of women, persons of color, veterans and persons with disabilities.

 Nominations or application materials should be submitted to:

Professor Matthew Fletcher

Chair: Faculty Appointments Committee

405B Law College Building

MSU College of Law

East Lansing, Michigan  48824



September 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Campbell: “Bountiful’s Plural Marriages”

Angela Campbell (McGill University - Faculty of Law) has posted Bountiful’s Plural Marriages, International Journal of Law in Context (forthcoming) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Bountiful, British Columbia is Canada’s only openly polygamous community. Public discussions about Bountiful suggest that the only form of marriage practiced there is polygamous, and that this is usually harmful to women and children. This paper suggests that this monolithic representation of marriage in Bountiful misses the conjugal pluralism that exists in this community. Part I sets out the typical portrayal of marriage in Bountiful offered by Canadian public and political discussions. Part II contrasts this portrayal with five stories about marriage in Bountiful that the author observed or was told about while conducting field research. These stories indicate that conjugal heterogeneity is both existent and accepted in Bountiful. They also suggest that, in becoming and being a wife in Bountiful, women can experience varying degrees of choice and agency. All of this is relevant to exploring how a fuller recognition of the conjugal diversity and choices that may exist in a place like Bountiful might affect formal juridical approaches to polygamy.


September 21, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Family Law Student Writing Competition

Click the link below for details of Hofstra Law School & The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts' annual famiily law writing competition.  Students must submit papers by March 15, 2011.  There are cash and other prizes for winners.

Download Family Law Writing Competition


September 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Katrina Babies

CNN recently had a story about giving birth during Katrina.  Read it here.


September 20, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Boyd: "No Presumptions! Joint Custody in the British Columbia Court of Appeal"

Susan B. Boyd (University of British Columbia Faculty of Law) has posted "No Presumptions! Joint Custody in the British Columbia Court of Appeal" on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This paper examines the treatment of joint custody in the British Columbia Court of Appeal from 1996 through 2008, comparing to the “cautious” approach taken by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The B.C. Court of Appeal has taken a strong stance against the use of presumptions, either for or against joint custody. However, in a society and a legal system that increasingly favours shared parenting, the lack of a cautionary approach to joint custody can lead to complacency about its appropriateness in circumstances that either generate risk (to a parent or a child) or are not conducive to consensual decision-making. Moreover, the ability of B.C. judges to order joint guardianship (which usually connotes some form of joint decision-making) even when joint custody is deemed inappropriate suggests that the trend towards some form of joint award is quite strong. That said, judges often craft an award that preserves final decision-making for one parent.


September 19, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)