Family Law Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Steiner: "A Commentary on the Old Saw that Same-Sex Marriage Threatens Civilization"

Ronald Steiner (Chapman) has posted "A Commentary on the Old Saw that Same-Sex Marriage Threatens Civilization" on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Discussions of same-sex marriage frequently entertain the notion that civilization is somehow at stake were a society to award legal sanction to it, and to gay rights more generally. Typically, those who express concern for negative civilizational consequences have in mind Western civilization, and more specifically Christian civilization. This civilizational concern will often be amplified by the implication that opposite-sex, or opposite-sex monogamous marriage is a timeless human universal. Any other marital regime is presumed to be an aberration, most likely the result of grave moral depravity of a sort supposedly facilitated by the modern rights-based society. This chapter subjects these civilizational concerns to empirically review and provides counterexamples to any claims regarding hegemonic and universal norms against same-sex relationships and homosexuality more generally. In light of that empirical survey, the chapter suggests that western civilization, and modern liberal-democracies in particular, are realizing their core moral and political values of equality and respect for the dignity of each individual human being when they extend legal recognition to same-sex couples, rather than reject or denounce their claims to full inclusion.


November 30, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Global Gender Gap Report 2010

The Global Gender Gap Report 2010 was recently released; read it here.


November 30, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jones: "Changing Marriage Patterns in Asia"

Gavin Jones (National University of Singapore) has posted "Changing Marriage Patterns in Asia" on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This paper provides an overview of changing marriage patterns in East, South and Southeast Asia. It begins by relating marriage patterns to kinship systems. Differences in kinship systems go a long way towards explaining differences in marriage arrangements and stability of marriages in different parts of Asia, and also the greater resilience of the system of arranged marriage in South Asia than in East and Southeast Asia.The paper then examines the trend toward later and less marriage throughout Asia. This has been particularly marked in East and Southeast Asia, with the important exception of China, and especially in the large cities of the region and among highly educated women. It has shown no signs of slackening;in countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Myanmar, about 20 per cent of women currently in their 20s and 30s could well remain single when they reach their late 40s. Social norms and community and family structures have not yet adapted fully to this remarkable increase in singlehood. Yet at the same time, many young women in some Asian countries are still marrying as teenagers, in many cases below the legal minimum age for marriage. An important set of issues arises from such early marriage patterns.

Consanguineous marriage has been widely practiced in some Asian countries. In some countries, it is on the decline,but in others (including Pakistan and Iran) there is little evidence of such a decline.

Finally, the paper examines divorce trends. Divorce rates have been rising sharply in many Asian countries, particularly in East Asia, as a result of the strains on marriage and an erosion of the belief that marriages must be preserved at all costs. However, divorce rates remain very low in South Asian countries, where the marriage system does not allow for the “escape route” of divorce, even for dysfunctional marriages.


November 29, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Harris: "Failure to Protect from Exposure to Domestic Violence in Private Custody Contests"

Leslie Harris (Oregon) has posted "Failure to Protect from Exposure to Domestic Violence in Private Custody Contests" (44 Family Law Quarterly 169) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require courts to consider domestic violence committed by one parent against the other in resolving a custody or visitation dispute between the parents. A significant number of states also have statutes or case law that requires courts to consider the occurrence of violence in a child’s household or proposed household in resolving such disputes, regardless of who commits the violence or at whom it is directed. This kind of law may be used against a parent, often a victim, who fails to protect a child from being exposed to the violence. This article examines and critiques these laws in light of how this issue is handled in juvenile court child protective proceedings. In the child welfare context, widely-accepted reforms promote leaving children with their mothers who have been battered and offering services to these mothers to help them escape from the violence. The paper argues that the lessons and techniques from the child welfare system can and should be brought to bear in private custody disputes involving claims of exposure to domestic violence.


November 29, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The Economics of the Family

A new theory is being set forth by some of those researching the economics of the family.  From The New York Times:

In light of these changes, we suggest that economists need to develop a new — dare we say post-Beckerian? — model of the family:

So what drives modern marriage? We believe that the answer lies in a shift from the family as a forum for shared production to shared consumption. In case the language of economic lacks romance, let’s be clearer: modern marriage is about love and companionship. Most things in life are simply better shared with another. … The key today is consumption complementarities — activities that are not only enjoyable, but are more enjoyable when shared with a spouse. We call this new model of sharing our lives “hedonic marriage.”

Read more here.


Hat Tip: SH


November 29, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Love Is Not Pain..., apparently, it reduces pain.

From CNN:

That rush of good feelings you have in the first few months of being in love don't just put you in a better mood; love may actually be a painkiller, researchers suggest in a new study in the journal PLoS ONE.

"Finding pleasure in activities, and with the one you’re with, can have multiple benefits, including reducing your pain," said senior author Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the Division of Pain Management at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Read more here.


November 27, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kleven: “Federalizing Public Education”

Thomas Kleven (Texas Southern University - Thurgood Marshall School of Law) has posted Federalizing Public Education, 55 Villanova Law Review 369 (2010) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article assesses the case for federalizing public education in the United States. The starting point is a conception of democracy I call equitable sharing, meaning that the goods of social life must be equitably distributed among all society’s members. I argue that equitable sharing mandates society to ensure that all children have access to a relatively equal educational opportunity—i.e., a comparable opportunity to advance educationally as far as their abilities, interests and willingness to strive allow—at least through elementary and secondary school.

To set the stage for discussing the merits of federalization, I examine various models through which society might promote comparable opportunity. These range from total public provision in a government-run school system that all children are required to attend, to total privatization with no government involvement other than a requirement that parents educate their children, to several mixed public/private alternatives including the parental prerogative to opt out of the government-run system and educate their children at their own expense, government subsidization of the education of children whose parents cannot afford it under an otherwise totally privatized system, and government provision of vouchers that parents can use to educate children publicly or privately as they see fit. I conclude that under egalitarian social conditions all the models might produce relatively equal educational opportunity, and that none are likely to do so under inegalitarian conditions although a government-run or voucher system would likely be more nearly comparable than total privatization.

I then discuss in the abstract three models for the provision of education in a federal system: total national responsibility, total local responsibility, and a mixed bag with the national government responsible for some aspects of education and local governments responsible for others. I conclude that under egalitarian conditions either national or local provision may yield comparable educational opportunities, but that under inegalitarian conditions the case for federalizing at least some aspects of education in order to promote comparability becomes stronger.

Finally, I examine the implications of the foregoing discussions for the United States. Given the highly inegalitarian conditions prevailing here, I conclude that the principle of equitable sharing requires government provision of education. And given the inequalities among the states and among localities within the states, I conclude that the federal government must assume some responsibility for the provision of education in order to promote comparable educational opportunity. Assuming that a universal voucher system will not be adopted in this country and that most children will continue to attend public schools, I examine three models: full federal financing of the existing state and local government system, federal financing plus the federal takeover of the states’ primary role in superintending a decentralized system of local school districts responsible for day-to-day management pursuant to federal standards, and total federalization of both the financing and operation of a national public school system. I conclude that at a minimum full federal financing of public education seems necessary, and that whether a more intensive federal involvement is necessary is an open question depending on the relative effectiveness of the various levels of government in administering the other aspects of public education.


November 26, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 25, 2010



Free Thanksgiving clipartThanksgiving clip artFree Thanksgiving clipart

November 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Coan: "Assisted Reproductive Equality: An Institutional Analysis"

Andrew B. Coan (University of Wisconsin Law School) has posted "Assisted Reproductive Equality: An Institutional Analysis" (forthcoming Case Western Reserve Law Review) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Should the constitutional right to procreative liberty extend to assisted reproductive technologies? Unlike most commentators to address this question, Radhika Rao appreciates that the answer turns not only on constitutional values but also on the competence of the institutions called upon to carry those values into effect. On that basis, she urges courts to focus on reproductive equality rather than recognizing a broad liberty right or leaving the regulation of assisted reproductive technologies wholly to an unsupervised political process. This brief symposium essay assesses the institutional promise and limitations of Rao’s reproductive equality approach. A broader takeaway is that comparative institutional analysis is both necessary to sound constitutional reasoning and more complex than many otherwise able constitutional analysts have appreciated. This paper is a companion piece to Andrew Coan, The Future of Reproductive Freedom, also available on SSRN.


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

Happy Meals No Longer As Happy

This story has dominated the media recently, but, for me, it has triggered very fond memories of happy meals and their toys--and the parental autonomy that allowed me to have them.

From Yahoo! News:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to pass a law that cracks down on the popular practice of giving away free toys with unhealthy restaurant meals for children.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed the law on Tuesday on a veto-proof 8-to-3 vote. It takes effect on December 1.

The law, like an ordinance passed earlier this year in nearby Santa Clara County, would require that restaurant kids' meals meet certain nutritional standards before they could be sold with toys.

Read more here.


November 24, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beekman: "Same-Sex Second-Parent Adoption and Intestacy Law: Applying the Sharon S. Model of 'Simultaneous' Adoption to Parent-Child Provisions of the Uniform Probate Code"

Jason Carey Beekman has posted "Same-Sex Second-Parent Adoption and Intestacy Law: Applying the Sharon S. Model of 'Simultaneous' Adoption to Parent–Child Provisions of the Uniform Probate Code" (96 Cornell L. Rev.) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Sarah, an eight-year-old girl, could not wait for her third-grade field trip to the Museum of Natural History. Best of all, her mother, Jill, who normally worked both a full-time job during the week and a part-time job on the weekend, took the day off to chaperone the trip. Just after pulling out of the elementary-school parking lot, a truck came speeding down the road and struck the school bus carrying Sarah’s class. Sarah was severely injured and rushed by ambulance to the nearby hospital. Jill, uninjured, held Sarah in the ambulance and carried her into the emergency room. Within minutes, Jill found herself removed to the waiting room without ever speaking to a doctor about Sarah’s condition. Although Sarah has always known Jill as her mom, legally, Jill is merely a stranger. Patty, Sarah’s biological mother and Jill’s partner, is the legal parent and the only one with the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of Sarah.

Due to a combination of state marriage laws and adoption statutes, most same-sex couples with children must make a very difficult decision - choosing which parent should be the legal parent. Most adoption laws state that when a natural parent participates in an adoption, this participation completely severs his or her legal rights. These laws leave the meaning of participation ambiguously broad and inclusive of processes such as second-parent adoption. Jill’s adopting Sarah would therefore completely divest Patty’s legal parentage. Although state adoption laws often have a spousal/stepparent exception, which allows second-parent adoption without severing the biological parent’s legal parent-child relationship, this exception does not provide a solution to most same-sex couples living in states that do not provide legally effective same-sex partnerships. Despite sharing equal parental responsibility and raising Sarah together from an early age, Patty and Jill must decide who will be Sarah’s legal mother.

The United States is currently enmeshed in a national debate over same-sex marriage. The debate is occurring in courtrooms as frequently as it occurs at the polls and in state and national legislatures. However, the legal system must address “trickle down” issues stemming from, but extending beyond, the task of simply determining the particular legal status that laws grant to a homosexual relationship. One of the major trickle down issues, though often left out of the public discourse, concerns parental determination for children of same-sex couples. Left even further outside pundit discussions, however, is how this parental determination for children of same-sex couples affects the children’s inheritance rights under the laws of intestate succession. The latter concern is the principal subject of this Editorial and the full-length Note on which it is based.

Second-parent adoption, in theory, provides an opportunity for a nonbiological parent to forge a legal relationship with his or her partner’s biological child (most of whom are either from a previous relationship or born to the couple through in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or another similar alternative method). While second-parent adoption allows a heterosexual family with a stepparent to ensure a legal relationship between the child and both parents, similarly situated homosexual couples must overcome several obstacles. The most significant obstacle is what is known as the “cut-off provision,” which is present in most state adoption statues. This provision leads to the Jill and Patty predicament - second-parent adoption severs the legal parent-child relationship between the child and biological parent while forging a legal relationship between the child and nonbiological parent. The spousal/stepparent exception that prevents divestment of the legal relationship between the biological parent and child during a second-parent adoption remains unavailable for most same-sex couples living in states that do not grant the legal status of spouse to same-sex partners.

The Note on which this Editorial is based analyzes the impact of the cut-off provision on same-sex couples and their children, focusing on the impact this legal doctrine has on intestacy law. Principally, the Note discusses the parent-child provisions in the Uniform Probate Code[1. UNIF. PROBATE CODE (2002).] and argues that the “simultaneous” adoption solution, which Sharon S. v. Superior Court[2. 73 P.3d 554 (Cal. 2003).] articulates, should extend beyond the context of adoption and parentage laws to the analogous cut-off provisions in intestate laws. When read to maintain legislative intent and ensure the best interest of the child, provisions in the Uniform Probate Code defining a legal parent-child relationship for the purposes of intestate succession should follow a presumption of simultaneous adoption. Courts should interpret the cut-off provision as a default, but waivable, benefit for the adoptive parent and not as a mandatory requirement. In the context of same-sex couples seeking second-parent adoption, this Editorial and the Note on which it is based proffer simultaneous adoption in lieu of sequential adoption because simultaneous adoption would allow an adoptive parent to consent to the maintenance of the legal relationship between the natural parent and the child, meaning that a nonbiological same-sex partner’s adoption would not sever the right of the child to inherit from the biological parent.

The debate surrounding second-parent adoption and the determination of legal parenthood directly impacts the law of succession. Legal recognition of a parent–child relationship is vital for both intestacy and testacy purposes. If a succession document does not provide an adequate definition, a court will look to intestacy laws for assistance in determining the meaning of terms like “child” and “descendent.” More importantly, however, is how a state’s probate code defines a parent-child relationship in its intestacy laws, as most people die intestate.

Similar to adoption laws, no federal law of succession exists in the United States: state law governs property succession and estate laws. Although state probate statutes vary, the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) is representative of most state probate provisions. The UPC articulates the law of intestate succession and provides substantive rules regarding execution and revocation of wills and other such instruments. If a state adopts the UPC, then the UPC defines the parent-child relationship for all purposes in the state, including for intestacy, unless the law of the state provides otherwise. However, recent UPC amendments, where adopted, explicitly provide otherwise and will govern for intestacy purposes.

A critique of current intestacy statutes follows a common critique of state parentage laws: they fail to reflect the reality of the changing landscape of the American family. Same-sex second-parent adoption, for example, is a direct affront to the entrenched model in estate law that defines succession in terms of blood ties. The 2008 UPC Amendments attempted to expand the definition of parent-child relationships to include increasingly emerging nontraditional family structures.[3. See Lee-ford Tritt, Sperms and Estates: An Unadulterated Functionally Based Approach to Parent-Child Property Succession, 62 SMU L. Rev. 367, 407, 379 n.54 (2009).] However, the overly complicated amendments maintain the sanguinary nexus test, only expanding the scope of the legally defined parent–child relationship to include (a) children of an adjudicated legal parent, (b) adopted children, (c) nonmarital children, and (d) a limited exception for stepparent and intrafamily adopted children, as well as other previously unrecognized relationships. Thus, although seeking to “redefine” the existing definition of parent-child relationship, the 2008 UPC Amendments still retain the relic of the sanguinary nexus test and do little to address family structures that fall outside of the traditional family structure.

Two of the new amended provisions, UPC Sections 2-118 and 2-119, specifically address adopted children. However, these amendments do not adequately address either the emerging issue of second-parent adoptions by gay and lesbian couples and the interplay with state marriage or partnership laws. The Amended UPC sections severely limit the right of adopted children to inherit from their nonbiological parents, providing a right to inherit only where the biological parent’s spouse is adopting the adoptee. Stemming from the same intent as state adoption laws - that is, to preserve the new adoptive family against claims from the severed biological parent - the UPC provides that for intestacy purposes, an adoptive child is the child of the adopting parents and not of the child’s biological parents.[4. Id. at 409.] Therefore, adoption cuts off the right of inheritance between the adopted child and the biological relatives, thereby effectuating the “fresh start” policy.

Thus, adoption, for intestacy purposes, cuts off the right of inheritance as between the adopted child and the biological relatives and creates inheritance rights in the adopted child’s adoptive family. Similar to state adoption laws, the UPC provides several exceptions to the rule that adoption cuts off inheritance rights between the adopted child and the genetic parents.

One exception continues a provision that existed in the UPC before the 2008 Amendments. In stepparent adoptions, the parent who is no longer a legal parent (the parent who died or gave up parental rights) remains a parent for inheritance by the child or a descendent of the child from or through the parent. Following a stepparent adoption, the biological parent who is no longer a legal parent will not inherit from the child, but a child will still inherit from or through that biological parent, even if the parent permitted the adoption of the child by the child’s stepparent. Just as in state adoption laws, the UPC provides exceptions to the “fresh start” divestment policy - including the stepparent exception and the spouse exception.[5. UNIF. PROBATE CODE § 2-119(b), (c) (2008 Amendment).] These exceptions, as well as the exception for children that a relative or surviving spouse of a relative adopts or after the death of both biological parents, allow the child to continue to inherit from or through the biological parent.

These exceptions do not cover second-parent adoptions by unmarried couples - a biological parent will cease to be a parent for intestacy purposes if his or her unmarried partner adopts the child. Thus, analogous to state adoption laws, many same-sex families are left unprotected. In states where same-sex marriage or other legal recognition of same-sex relationships is not available, the UPC would limit the rights of that child to the intestate succession of one of the parents. In effect, the parents would have to choose who would be the “legal” parent under the parent-child definition of the UPC, which would mean deciding which parent the child would automatically inherit from, which parent’s will the child would have standing to contest, and which parent the child would be an interested heir of. For example, if the biological mother in a lesbian couple wants her partner to adopt the child, the biological mother risks her child being unable to inherit from the biological mother because this scenario does not fit one of the exceptions to the 2-119 (a) severing the parent-child relationship between an adoptee and the adoptee’s biological parents.

The simultaneous adoption solution to the cut-off provision in adoption statutes should apply to the parent-child relationship provisions in state probate laws. Applying the Sharon S. simultaneous adoption approach provides that a biological parent who does not relinquish parental rights with respect to a child will continue to be treated as a parent, and that the child will continue to be treated as the parent’s child, for purposes of intestacy. Similar to the explanation that the court provided in Sharon S., this solution does not require a broad and activist reading of the exception or a new, even more expansive intestate framework. Instead, it simply provides that the cut-off provision is discretionary, not mandatory, and thus, that the nonbiological parent’s second-parent adoption does not automatically extinguish the child’s right to inherent from the biological parent.

There is a concern, however, with analogizing to adoption law and applying the Sharon S. solution. Looking at legislative intent, the purpose behind adoption statutes - and family law in general - is to effectuate the best interest of the child. However, the purpose behind intestate and probate laws is to ensure testamentary freedom and effectuate the intent of the individual. Yet, allowing an adoptive parent to waive the “benefit” of the cut-off provision demonstrates, in a very direct way, demonstrates the desire of both the biological parent and the adoptive parent to include the child in the definition of “family” for the purposes of inheritance.

The structure of the American family is changing: a more fluid and flexible understanding of family is replacing notions of an archetypical heterosexual nuclear family. However, laws written with the traditional archetypical family in mind remain on the books. Many areas of law, including adoption and probate laws, must respond to the evolving concept of family, a concept increasingly inclusive of same-sex couples and their children. Arguing for the universal legalization of same-sex marriage as the solution is both unrealistic and, arguably, impractical, but laws should not discriminate against same-sex couples and, more importantly, their children. While one can argue that the cut-off provision does not explicitly discriminate against same-sex couples and their children, it has an unconstitutional disparate impact on children of same-sex individuals, especially because the children are unable to access the stepparent/spousal exception in most cases. The cut-off provision might therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution because it treats children of same-sex couples differently from children of heterosexual couples.

There is a long line of cases in which the Supreme Court has invalidated statutes that treat illegitimate children differently from those born in wedlock. In Levy v. Louisiana,[6. 391 U.S. 68 (1968).] for example, the Court utilized the rational basis test and determined that there was no rational reason to prevent illegitimate children from recovering under the state’s wrongful death statute. Although the Court’s decision in Labine v. Vincent[7. 401 U.S. 532 (1971).] concluded the opposite, the cases are distinguishable. Labine, decided three years after Levy, involved a Louisiana law concerning an illegitimate child who sought a portion of her father’s property after he died. The Court held that refusing to allow this illegitimate, unacknowledged child to inherit through intestate succession did not violate the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses because Louisiana had a legitimate state interest in an orderly administration of succession and therefore there was a rational basis for the discriminatory treatment. The Court noted, however, that if the decedent had acknowledged his illegitimate daughter during his lifetime, then she would have been a natural child under the state’s intestacy scheme and would have inherited from his estate.[8. Id. at 533–37.] In Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., the Court applied intermediate scrutiny to a worker’s compensation-claim methodology and held a denial of equal recovery rights to dependent unacknowledged illegitimate children violated the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment.[9. 406 U.S. 164, 165 (1972).] Finally, in Trimble v. Gordon, the Court invalidated an Illinois intestacy statute limiting inheritance by intestate succession to illegitimate children of the mother.[10. 430 U.S. 762, 776 (1977).] Once again, the Court noted the irrationality of any scheme that treated illegitimate and legitimate dependents differently. The Court upheld Trimble a decade later in Reed v. Campbell when it explicitly clarified that Trimble was still good law.[11. See 476 U.S. 852, 856 (1986); 430 U.S. at 770–71, 776.] While the level of scrutiny might not be the same in all the cases, there is a demonstrated history of Supreme Court precedent looking at the disparate impact of particular state statutes and requiring that states not to treat children differently merely on the basis of legitimacy.

Analogizing from these cases, the Court would most likely apply a rational basis test to the cut-off provision and require a legitimate state interest to hold the provision constitutional as applied to same-sex families. There does not appear to be a state interest that would pass constitutional muster. The “fresh start” policy, the only real reason states mention to justify the cut-off provision, does not provide a legitimate interest in the same-sex second-parent adoption context. In fact, it goes against the child’s best interest in divesting a meaningful personal relationship of all legal merit.


November 23, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saving for College

Last month, TaxProf Blog had an interesting post summarizing how Americans save for their kids' college education.  Read it here.


November 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mossman & Shoemaker: "Incompetence to Maintain a Divorce Action: When Breaking Up Is Odd to Do"

Douglas Mossman (Univeristy of Cincinnati College of Law) & Amanda Shoemaker have posted "Incompetence to Maintain a Divorce Action: When Breaking Up is Odd to Do"(84 St. John's L. Rev. 117) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The law has well-established provisions for handling divorce actions initiated on behalf of persons already adjudged incompetent or by competent petitioners against incompetent spouses. But how should a court respond if a mentally ill petitioner who is competent to manage most personal affairs seeks to divorce a spouse for bizarre, very odd, or crazy-sounding reasons?

Several recent social developments - better psychiatric treatment, wider acceptance of divorce, population trends, and the advent of “no-fault” and unilateral divorce laws - have made it more likely that mentally ill petitioners will seek divorces. Yet the question of whether to allow a divorce action that is motivated by a petitioner’s psychotic ideas about his spouse is addressed in just a few published cases, and then only indirectly. Largely unanswered are questions about whether domestic relations courts have the authority to stop such divorce actions, to investigate competence of mentally ill petitioners, or to order mental health examinations of petitioners.

This Article recommends that domestic relations law recognize incompetence to maintain a divorce action as a distinct form of legal incapacity. We review existing rulings that bear on whether a mentally ill person may be barred from pursuing a divorce because of a specific lack of competence to divorce. We explain why requiring parties to be competent to maintain a divorce action is consistent with existing case law and with existing doctrine concerning other legal competencies. We then offer a model statute that articulates a standard for incompetence to divorce and that would authorize courts to adjudicate the issue with the aid of expert testimony. We also give examples of evaluation questions that might help courts or mental health examiners discern whether a psychiatric disorder has compromised a petitioner’s competence to divorce.


November 22, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Announcement: For Signature, Law Prof Amicus Brief in Adoption Case


Another disrupted adoption case has arisen, and I am soliciting support for an amicus brief.  There is in this case the usual prospect of a biological father forcing the separation of a child (two and a half years old) from the adoptive parent (a single woman) who has cared for the child since birth.  The adopting mom is in California, the biological father is in Ohio, and as in other cases the interstate aspect has contributed to delay in reaching finality.  What is unusual in this case is that the alternative to adoption for the child is not placement with a biological parent.  An Ohio court has ordered that the child be transported to Ohio for placement in foster care, with the possibility that ultimately she will be placed with the biological father's mother (the child's biological grandmother, whom the girl has never met).  The birth mother continues to support the adoption, and the biological father has a history of maltreatment with other children (as well as domestic violence against the birth mother).  California courts are now addressing guardianship and adoption petitions by the girl's de facto mom.  I was asked to write a brief just on the issue of what constitutional rights the child has in this situation.  This inevitably entails also analyzing what rights the biological father has.  My position is that the child's attachment and bond with the adopting mother is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment right of intimate association, and that the father is at most entitled to participate in a best interests determination as to the child's future family life.  I have a draft ready to distribute.  If any other law professor would genuinely consider signing on to the brief, please email me at, and I will send you the draft to review.

Thanks for considering it.
Jim Dwyer


November 22, 2010 in Adoption | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Alimony Expanded in Quebec

From The Vancouver Sun:

MONTREAL — A groundbreaking decision from Quebec's Court of Appeal opens the door for common-law partners to collect alimony, affecting about 1.2 million Quebecers and bringing the province in line with the rest of the country.

But the woman who brought the issue to a head by taking her billionaire ex to court, claiming alimony payments of the kind most women can only dream, might be out of luck.

Two out of three judges on the panel Wednesday gave the provincial government a year to revamp the family law section of the Civil Code so that unmarried couples can't be excluded from the right to claim alimony.

Read more here.


November 21, 2010 in Property Division | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

All Female Species That Clones Itself

Warning: This CNN story is not for the faint-hearted:

Researchers have identified a previously undocumented species of all-female lizard in the Mekong River delta that can reproduce itself by cloning, and the story of how it was discovered is almost as exotic as the animal itself.

Read it here.


November 20, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Royal Engagement

Let's add to the media frenzy surrounding Kate & William's engagement by pointing out that it has brought much attention to the English premarital agreement, which is entering a new era of enforceability in the UK.

From Business & Law:

Britain's Prince William and his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton ended speculations about their future by announcing their engagement on Tuesday but triggered a new speculation over whether the couple will opt for a prenuptial agreement.

To date, no member of the British royal family has signed a prenuptial agreement but William and Kate could set a royal precedence.

According to divorce and family law experts, a prenuptial agreement would make William and Kate be seen as a modern couple and would help avoid a lot of unnecessary headache and heartache later.


Last month, the U.K. Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, swept away hundreds of years of legal precedent that a married couple should be together for life and their property should be shared, by saying that prenuptial agreements are enforceable under British divorce law.

The court had ruled against Nicolas Granatino, a former investment banker who had challenged a prenuptial agreement he signed with German heiress Katrin Radmacher.

Court President Lord Phillips said that the law cannot prevent a couple deciding how to arrange their affairs should they come to live apart. The court said that all English courts should follow its precedence and after its ruling "it will be natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them."

However, Lord Phillips also said that prenuptials will not be legally binding in all circumstances and the courts would still have the discretion to waive any pre- or postnuptial agreement, especially when it was unfair to any children of the marriage.

UK is known as the "divorce capital of Europe."

Read more here.



November 19, 2010 in Property Division | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

"Birth or Not" Website

The internet has been buzzing with the following story, with many suggesting it cannot possibly be true:

From Star Tribune:

A suburban Twin Cities couple touched off an Internet frenzy Thursday with their "birth or not" website -- an online poll on asking whether the woman, who is 17 weeks pregnant, should have an abortion.

"We wanted to give people a chance to voice their opinions in a real situation where it makes a difference," said Alisha Arnold, 30, of Apple Valley.

She and her husband, Peter Arnold, began the online vote because she was still healing emotionally from the most recent of three miscarriages, she said. They weren't sure whether she was ready for a baby.

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November 19, 2010 in Abortion | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Show Me the Money...

Wrong movie, right sentiment: Above the Law recently published an interesting post about the efforts of Michael Douglas's ex-wife to collect money off his Wall Street 2 movie.  Read about it here.


November 19, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

20-Year-Old Frozen Embryo Yields Baby

From My Fox New York:

NewsCore - A healthy baby boy was born from an embryo frozen for almost 20 years in what was hailed Sunday as scientific breakthrough that could allow women to start families much later in life.

The infant's mother, who is 42, underwent infertility treatment for 10 years before she was given the embryo last year. She gave birth to a baby boy in May this year.

News of the birth, reported in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, comes as British lawmakers extend the period that embryos can be stored for up to 55 years.

The baby boy was born from a batch of five embryos frozen in 1990 in the U.S. by a couple who no longer needed them after they conceived their own child through IVF treatment.

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November 18, 2010 in Alternative Reproduction | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)