Family Law Prof Blog

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Transgendered Spouse Denied Death Benefits

From the Houston Chronicle:

A judge Friday agreed to temporarily bar the allegedly transgendered widow of a Wharton firefighter from spending or collecting his death benefits.

State District Judge Randy Clapp ruled after hearing from Nikki Araguz that she received a check for $60,000 on Thursday, about a 10th of the total cash expected because of Thomas Araguz's July 4 death in an egg farm inferno.

The firefighter's parents have filed a lawsuit alleging that the marriage is void because Nikki Araguz was born a man.

Their attorney, Chad Ellis, said family members got what they wanted in Friday's hearing and expect to go forward.

"Nikki Araguz is someone who has conned people her entire life," said Ellis, an attorney for Simone Araguz, the firefighter's mother. "We are getting daily reports that Tommy Araguz was not the first person who this has happened to. She has deceived other men into thinking that she was born a woman."

If the marriage is voided in Texas, he said, all of the proceeds will go to Tommy Araguz's two sons from a prior marriage.

He said Thomas Araguz testified in a deposition two months ago that he did not know his wife was born a man, which was flatly disputed by Nikki Araguz.

"I had been completely honest with him about my entire history: legally, financially, physically, mentally, and medically," Nikki Araguz said after the hearing. "And I have evidence to prove such facts."

She said she looks forward to the outcome of the case.

"My husband and I loved each other very much," she said "When all of the evidence is presented, the whole world will know that I am Mrs. Capt. Thomas Araguz III, and I'm now a widow."

Nikki Araguz's attorneys have declined to comment on their defense but said they expect to file an answer to the lawsuit detailing their strategy in the coming weeks.

Friday's hearing was the first step in litigation to determine whether the two were legally married.

In court, Nikki Araguz's birth certificate, indicating that she was born a man, and an affidavit in which she changed her name were admitted into evidence.

The law that generally determines gender in Texas is a 1991 court case, Littleton v. Prange, which held that three factors - a person's gonads, genitalia and chromosomes - determine gender at birth.

Nikki Araguz's attorney, Phyllis Randolph Frye, who is transgendered, said she hopes this case will end that law.

Read the full story here.


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