Family Law Prof Blog

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Same-Sex Common Law Marriage in TX

From Huffington Post:

A Texas probate judge recognized a common law marriage between two women this week, granting that the women were in fact legal spouses and defying objections from the state attorney general in the process. The ruling is a historic first for the Lone Star State.

On Tuesday, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman approved an agreement between Sonemaly Phrasavath and the family of her late partner, Stella Powell, who died of colon cancer in 2014, to split Powell's assets. The ruling simultaneously recognized the couple's common law marriage, the Houston Chronicle first reported.

Read more here.

September 21, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Kentucky Clerk Again Asks for Delay on Gay-Marriage Licenses

From ABC News:

A Kentucky county clerk who was recently jailed for denying same-sex couples marriage licenses filed an appeal Friday that asks for another delay in issuing the licenses.

Attorneys for Kim Davis, who objects to gay marriage on religious grounds, argued in their motion to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that all the same-sex couples who sued Davis for a license received one from her deputies while she was in jail. Therefore, they said, her office should not be required to issue them to any more couples once she returns to work.

U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning wrote that his mandate to issue licenses applied to all couples, not only those who filed suit. But Davis' lawyers allege that order was issued improperly, and again have asked for a delay.

"I hate to use a religious metaphor, given the circumstances," said Sam Marcosson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Louisville, "but this strikes me as a Hail Mary pass."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against Davis on behalf of four couples, two straight and two gay, who were denied licenses after the Supreme Court in June effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide. When Davis refused Bunning's order to issue licenses, the judge declared the clerk in contempt of court and jailed her for five days.

In her absence, her deputy clerks issued licenses and both same-sex couples who sued her received one. But Bunning clarified his order to include all eligible couples who request a marriage license.

In the appeal filed Friday, Davis' lawyers, with the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, argued that Bunning issued the clarification improperly and once again asked the appeals court to delay the mandate that she issue licenses.

 Read more here.

September 20, 2015 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

AL Case on Adoption

From Ruthann Robson, writing for the Constitutional Law Prof Blog:

In its opinion in Ex Parte E.L., the Alabama Supreme Court has refused to recognize an adoption of three children that occurred six years earlier in Georgia by "E.L.'s former same-sex partner."  Reversing lower courts, the Alabama Supreme Court's per curiam majority held that it need not recognize the Georgia adoptions under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, Article IV, §1. 

Georgia & Alabama circa 1823 via

The biological mother challenging the adoptions argued that the Full Faith and Credit Clause should not apply to the Georgia adoptions under two exceptions: lack of subject matter jurisdiction and violation of public policy.  The Alabama Supreme Court held that the Georgia courts did not have "subject matter jurisdiction" over the second-parent adoption because Georgia law did not recognize second-parent adoptions at that time.  Its conclusion regarding the lack of subject matter jurisdiction was supported by a dissenting opinion from a Georgia Supreme Court Justice.  As the Alabama Supreme Court's per curiam opinion explained:

The Supreme Court of Georgia as a whole has not specifically addressed this issue; however, in Wheeler v. Wheeler, 281 Ga. 838, 642 S.E.2d 103 (2007), a similar case involving a biological mother's attempt to void a second- parent adoption granted her same-sex ex-partner, that court, without issuing an opinion, denied a petition for the writ of certiorari filed by the biological mother challenging the Georgia Court of Appeals' decision not to consider her discretionary appeal of the trial court's order denying her petition to void the adoption. However, in a dissenting opinion Justice Carley addressed the argument E.L. now makes . . . .

Read more here.



September 19, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Importance of Cohabitation Agreements

From The National Law Review:

In today’s society, many couples choose to live together rather than get married. This growing trend has become more common in recent years than ever before. There are a variety of possible reasons why couples choose to live together rather than get married. One factor that is likely considered is the complex legal proceedings that will occur if the couple was to get divorced. Couples that cohabitate would rather make it simple and just be able to move out rather than go through a formal divorce.

However, while cohabitating couples may think they are simplifying their lives, legally, it is important to note that they are given none of the legal protections of married couples. This is especially true in New Jersey, as common law marriages are not recognized, so cohabitating couples are actually doing themselves a disservice by not seeking out the legal protection offered in marriage. Some of the rights that unmarried but cohabitating couples lose out on include the protections provided by divorce laws, the right to make medical decisions for their partner, inheritance laws, survivor’s benefits as well as many others.

Cohabitating couples who decide to part often encounter issues and conflicts regarding the title and division of property purchased together, joint bank accounts they may have established, loans taken out together, gifts given between the parties and child custody and child support payments for children that were born of the relationship.

There is a simple solution that cohabitating couples can pursue to create legal rights for themselves: a cohabitation agreement. Similar to prenuptial agreements made prior to the marriage and settlement agreements reached during a divorce, a cohabitation agreement is a written legal document reached between a couple who have chosen to live together but are not legally married.

Read more here.

September 19, 2015 in Cohabitation (live-ins) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Maternity Leave for Surrogate Birth

From the Daily Beast:

A New Jersey woman who used a surrogate to have twins is suing Verizon for allegedly denying her paid maternity leave—and she claims the company later fired her when she took time off to care for the babies, who were born prematurely and who both died shortly after birth.

Marybeth Walz, a Verizon executive for 17 years, postponed starting a family for her career and later was unable to have children because of complications from cervical cancer. But in 2013, she became a mom with the help of egg freezing and a gestational carrier, court papers show.

Walz says her human resources manager at Verizon initially congratulated her when she requested maternity leave. But after Walz indicated her children would be born through a surrogate, the woman’s “tone immediately changed,” court papers state, and the manager allegedly told Walz she was ineligible for paid leave.


Naomi Cahn, a law professor at George Washington University, said these cases are “testing the boundaries of sex discrimination law, the boundaries of disability law, and it’s showing the types of issues that are likely to arise as surrogacy becomes more common.”

Read more here.

September 18, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Call for Papers: Sarah Weddington Writing Prize for New Student Scholarship in Reproductive Rights

Law Students for Reproductive Justice, in collaboration with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law School, is pleased to announce the Call for Submission for the eleventh annual Sarah Weddington Writing Prize for New Student Scholarship in Reproductive Rights.


This year, the Sarah Weddington Writing Prize’s suggested theme is “Restoring Public Insurance Coverage for Abortion,” with a focus on the Hyde Amendment and Harris v. McRae (1980). However, submissions on other topics will also be accepted. For more information, please download the 2015 Call for Submissions:


The deadline for submission is Monday, January 18, 2016.


Winning authors will receive cash prizes: $750 (first place), $500 (second place), or $250 (third place).  Additionally, each winning author will receive a copy of the newly released casebook, Melissa Murray and Kristin Luker’s Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice. The first place winner will also have a chance at publication with the NYU Review of Law and Social Change. 

September 17, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An End to Virginia's Abortion Battles?

From The Washington Post:

THE EFFORT to shutter abortion clinics in Virginia, launched by Republican lawmakers in 2011, has wilted under the weight of law and logic. Now the state’s Board of Health is poised to end the assault on abortion rights in the commonwealth. It’s high time.

The board, which meets Thursday, will consider rewriting regulations, intended solely to close the clinics, which were forced on it by then-attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, a staunch opponent of abortion. The board, even when it was composed mainly of GOP appointees, in 2012, tried to shield the clinics from the legislature’s predations until Mr. Cuccinelli (R) threatened to withhold legal representation in the event board members were sued.

The rules apply exacting standards for the construction of new hospitals to existing, small, outpatient abortion clinics — a medically unjustified departure from long-standing practice for health-care facilities. Thirteen of Virginia’s 18 clinics remain in business only because the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who took office last year, has granted temporary waivers delaying the regulations from taking effect.

Republican lawmakers said the rules were intended to protect the health and safety of women seeking abortions. That was always a flimsy cover story; there was no evidence of any risk to women’s health posed by previous standards.

Read more here.

September 16, 2015 in Abortion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Kansas Sperm Donor Fights Back After State Forces Him to Pay Child Support


It’s probably one of the most bizarre Craigslist transaction, involving a lesbian couple desperate for a sperm donor, and a Topeka man willing to help.

Little did he know that act of kindness would lead to a lengthy child support battle that continues to this day. Recently this controversial case led to a court ordered DNA test that revealed he is a father, “I’m the sperm donor, I’m not the father,” William Marotta said.

If Marotta had a nickel for every time he’s said that in the past three years, he’d have enough money to pay off the amount the state of Kansas wants in back child support, “Cause it would be really easy for me to just pay off the money and be done,” Marotta said. “But that’s not the point, shouldn’t have been done in the first place, it’s wrong.”

The person he believes is responsible for the wrongdoing, Governor Sam Brownback, “I believe he’s sat down with a group of his people and said ‘okay,this is what I want to do, how do we accomplish that.’”

This all started when Marotta donated his sperm to the lesbian couple in 2009 after seeing their post on craigslist. Marotta accepted to help the couple, and later that year the couple had a little girl, “Angie and Jennifer are the parents,” Marotta said.

However the state of Kansas won’t accept that. Despite the fact that the lesbian couple and Marotta signed a contract giving up all parental rights to the child.

Read more here.

September 15, 2015 in Child Support (establishing) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pope Francis' Annulment Reforms May Draw Divorced Catholics Back to the Faith

From Los Angeles Times:

After her divorce, Laura Brockway quit going to Sunday Mass. She felt unworthy and her faith lapsed, and she waited more than a decade before seeking an annulment. She now calls that experience — petitioning the church to declare her marriage contract flawed from the start — the most meaningful of her life.

Coming to terms with her failed union, a process that took 11 months and involved typing up dozens of pages of personal testimony, was a spiritual milestone for Brockway. "I became devoted to my faith," said the 47-year-old, who now works for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary, Ind. "Now I hope it can do the same for others."

Many Catholics across the United States have welcomed Pope Francis' annulment reforms, the most far-reaching in almost three centuries. Making it faster, simpler and cheaper to obtain an annulment, many hope, will foster greater acceptance and encourage lapsed or wavering Catholics to rejoin the faith.

"It's certainly a positive message, and I would say it's a correction," said Father Kevin M. Laughery, a judicial vicar who leads the annulment tribunal in the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. A century ago, he said, the church, uncomfortable with the idea of divorce, tried to respond by simply ordering the faithful to stay married.

"Obviously, that did not work," Laughery said. "Even though our tastes may not include the idea of recognizing divorce, we have come around to the idea that it is sometimes necessary."

Read more here.

September 14, 2015 in Annulment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Where Do Fathers Receive the Most Paternity Leave?

From Forbes:

70 countries around the world now provide paid paternity leave for fathers. The length of time offered and the average payment level differ drastically between countries, according to the World Economic Forum, based on an OECD report. Even though South Korea and Japan offer dads the most paid time off work, very few men avail of it due to cultural perceptions that raising a child is primarily the mother’s task.

While fewer than 2 percent of fathers in Japan and South Korea take paternity leave, 89 percent of dads take time off in Sweden. In countries where the paternal leave on offer is relatively short and well paid, more fathers tend to take the opportunity to use it.

Read more here.

September 13, 2015 in Paternity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Texas Abortion Providers Ask Supreme Court to Reverse Ruling on Clinics

From The New York Times:

Abortion providers in Texas asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to reverse an appeals court ruling that would leave the state with 10 abortion clinics, down from more than 40. Should the court agree to hear the case, as appears likely, it could issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 before its next term ends in June.

“Texas is the second-most-populous state in the nation — home to 5.4 million women of reproductive age,” the providers wrote in urging the court to hear the case. “More than 60,000 of those women choose to have an abortion each year.”

The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

The brief said that the law “would delay or prevent thousands of women from obtaining abortions and lead some to resort to unsafe or illegal methods of ending an unwanted pregnancy.”

Read more here.

September 12, 2015 in Abortion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Australian Leader, Opposing Gay Marriage, Faces Party and Family Opposition

From The New York Times:

About two-thirds of Australians support same-sex marriage, surveys have found. Many of them are members of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party (which is conservative, despite the name) — including his sister, Christine Forster, who is on Sydney’s City Council and is gay.

But Mr. Abbott has staked out an uncompromising position against it. And since the prime minister survived a leadership challenge early this year, the issue has been contributing to renewed discontent within his party.

“I would like to get married,” said Ms. Forster, who has been engaged to her partner, Virginia Edwards, since 2013. “And at this point, I cannot.”

Mr. Abbott, a conservative leader who is a polarizing figure at the best of times, is doing badly in the polls, two years after taking office. His position on same-sex marriage is only one factor, but it is one that analysts say goes to the core of his political vulnerability.

Read more here.

September 11, 2015 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gay-Hating Westboro Church Protests KY Clerk Who Denied Same-Sex Marriages

From NBC News:

Westboro Baptist — the Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay agenda — has waded into the controversy over the Kentucky court clerk who refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of court orders.

But it is taking aim at Kim Davis, who has gone to jail for refusing to allow gay people to marry on the basis that it would violate her Christian beliefs.

Westboro, or WBC, is notorious and widely scorned for picketing funerals for service members of victims and mass shootings to draw attention to its "God Hates Fags" argument that God is punishing America for accommodating homosexuality.

Referring to Jeremiah 3:20 — the King James version of which reads, "Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD" — WBC undertook a P.R. campaign over the weekend, attacking the thrice-divorced (and legally remarried) Kim Davis in a string of Tweets and YouTube videos as an "oath breaker" and a "lawbreaker" — meaning, of course, God's law.

Read more here.

September 10, 2015 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kentucky Clerk Appeals Contempt of Court Ruling Over Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

From CNN:

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who's refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, has appealed the contempt of court ruling that landed her in jail last week, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

"While most Americans are enjoying the extended holiday weekend with family and friends, Kim Davis sits in isolation for the fourth day in jail," her attorney, Mat Staver, said in a statement Sunday. "We are working through the holiday to secure Kim's freedom."

Davis had refused to give licenses to same-sex couples after June's Supreme Court decision on grounds that issuing the licenses would violate her Christian convictions against same-sex marriage.

A federal judge ordered her to jail Thursday, ruling she was in contempt of court for refusing to issue the licenses and not allowing her deputies to distribute them for her.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning said Davis would remain behind bars until she complies. Five of her deputies agreed Thursday to issue marriage licenses in her absence and the Rowan County Clerk's Office began doing so the following day.

Read more here.

September 9, 2015 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paternity Fraud

From Professor Elaine Sutherland, writing for the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland:

Which is worse, discovering that one has a child after being led to believe that this was not the case, or learning that one has been paying child support for a child who never existed? Does an action lie, in delict, in either case? Two recent cases, one on either side of the Atlantic, may help to focus the answer to that question.

Read more here.

September 8, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pope Francis to Release New Marriage Annulment Process for Catholics

From The Washington Post:

On Tuesday, Pope Francis will release a plan to reform the Catholic Church’s procedure for marriage annulments, according to a Vatican spokesperson. The move comes ahead of a highly anticipated meeting the pope has organized in Rome in October that could result in changes in church practice and doctrine around the family.

The pope will announce two decrees during a news conference in Rome on Tuesday. The decrees are titled “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” and “Mitis et Misericors Iesus,” Latin meaning “The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus” and “The Meek and Merciful Jesus.”

Annulment — a required process for Catholics that invalidates an earlier marriage — and the rules governing Communion for divorced Catholics who remarry outside the church have been under discussion since a high-profile meeting at the Vatican last year. Francis has spoken several times of the need to reform annulments, as Catholics have complained that the process can take time and money to obtain one before they can take Communion again.

Read more here.

September 8, 2015 in Annulment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Viral Rise of Divorce Selfies and The Death of Traditional Marriage

From The Washington Post:

In late August, Shannon Neuman and her husband Chris went to the municipal court in Calgary, Alberta, to get a divorce. They had already filled out the forms and taken the requisite seminars. They navigated the 24-story Courts Centre and dropped their papers off.

Then, on their way out, Chris and Shannon — no longer the Neumans — paused in front of a courthouse sign. They snapped a selfie, both smiling.

“Here’s Chris Neuman and I yesterday after filing for divorce!” Shannon wrote in a Facebook post that was shared 11,000 times within its first hours online. (Wrote Chris, in the comments: “I couldn’t have hand-picked a better ex-wife if I tried.”)

Er … what is going on here? This isn’t at all the type of dialogue we expect around divorce, particularly since we’ve been taught that marriage is the only viable type of adult relationship or family structure. But in the era of platonic parenting and conscious uncoupling, these sorts of friendly, even triumphant #divorceselfies have become increasingly common. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, in fact, you’ll find over a hundred of them.

There were Keith Hinson and Michelle Knight, the Florida couple who split with a grinning selfie after three years. Jessica Hrivnak, the violin teacher who captioned hers "welcome to coparenting!" Amber Ortega and ex-husband Mike, who gives a thumbs-up to the phone.

Read more here.

September 7, 2015 in Divorce (grounds) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Tennessee Judge Refuses to Grant Straight Couple Divorce Because...Gay Marriage

From The Washington Post:

It was the judicial equivalent of a high school student tearing up his term paper because he got a bad grade. Or, more accurately, throwing it back at his teacher and telling her to revise it herself.

Last week, a Tenn. judge refused to grant a straight couple a divorce because the U.S. Supreme Court allowed gay marriage.

Many readers may be scratching their heads right now, wondering how the legalization of gay marriage could possibly disrupt straight divorce proceedings.

But spare a moment to hear out Jeffrey M. Atherton, if for no other reason than that the judge’s argument is an increasingly common one as conservatives across the country claim the Supreme Court overreached with its June 26 watershed ruling.

Read more here. 

September 6, 2015 in Divorce (grounds) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

New MLB Domestic Violence Policy Has No Maximum, Minimum Penalties


Major League Baseball can suspend players with pay when legal charges are pending in "exceptional cases" under a new domestic violence policy signed Friday.

The 13-page deal was signed Friday by the league and players' association and followed a series of high-profile domestic violence cases involving NFL players. The policy allows the baseball commissioner to issue discipline for "just cause," the same standard used under the sport's collective bargaining agreement. Discipline is not dependent on a criminal conviction.

"Major League Baseball and its Clubs are proud to adopt a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity and the sensitivities of these significant societal issues," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "We believe that these efforts will foster not only an approach of education and prevention but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities."

The commissioner can place a player accused of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse on paid "administrative leave" for up to seven days before a disciplinary decision, which can be appealed to the sport's arbitration panel, chaired by an independent arbitrator. The commissioner also may defer a discipline decision until the resolution of criminal charges.

Read more here.

September 5, 2015 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Broken Adoptions Symposium

On Friday October 23rd please join government officials, non-profit agencies, youth formerly in foster care and academics in-person in NYC or via live webcast in order to discuss challenges youth adopted out foster care may face and possibilities for reform. Significantly, youth voices will be heard at the national symposium through a one hour panel discussion, introducing various panels, and digital stories addressing the critical issues of broken adoptions, post-adoption sibling visitation, and adoption subsidy fraud. We are also soliciting material for an online journal due December 15th. Learn more and register here: If you cannot attend, please complete our online survey. 

September 4, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)