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Same-Sex Marriage Bans Come Tumbling Down

ringsYesterday, the United States Supreme Court chose to do nothing, which, ironically, resulted in the most widespread impact on the marriage equality movement to date. The Supreme Court’s inaction – its decision not to review lower court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans – effectively added 12 more states to the marriage equality column.

What Happened? Here’s What the Court Didn’t Do

Three separate federal appeals courts (for the Fourth, the Seventh and the Tenth circuits) struck down state marriage bans from five different states – Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana. These states appealed the decisions to the Supreme Court (or SCOTUS). Yesterday, SCOTUS denied review of these petitions, meaning it chose not to hear the states’ appeals. In doing so, the Supreme Court left the lower court rulings in place. As a result, the same-sex marriage bans in these five states are no longer valid, and same-sex couples in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana are now free to marry.

The Court’s inaction will also affect a few additional states. Because the Justices let the lower court rulings stand, those decisions now become law of the land for other states that fall under the Fourth (Virginia), Seventh (Indiana and Wisconsin) and Tenth (Utah and Oklahoma) Circuits. This means that six other states whose same-sex marriage bans are still on the books will soon have to admit defeat, as their bans are now effectively dead. These states include West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado (but see below) and Wyoming.

Colorado’s AG Follows the Court’s Lead

Soon after the Court’s decision, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who previously vowed to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban, announced he would no longer do so. “There are no remaining legal requirements that prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Colorado,” Suthers said in a statement today. He also indicated that all 64 of Colorado’s county clerks are now legally required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples requesting them.

The Ninth Circuit Struck Down Two More Bans Today

And just today, the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Nevada and Idaho. This ruling is expected to control pending challenges to bans in Alaska, Arizona and Montana.

What a Difference a Year Makes – What’s the Roundup?

  • This time last year, same-sex marriage was legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
  • As of yesterday, same-sex marriage was legal in 24 states, plus D.C. (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin).
  • As of today, that number grew to 27, plus D.C. – adding Colorado, Idaho and Nevada.
  • Eight more states (West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona and Montana) will likely be next as a result of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling and the Ninth Circuit’s decision today – the total number could soon be 35 marriage equality states, plus D.C.


Teen Sues Parents for Financial Support and Tuition

father daughter dispute conflictLast week we saw a flurry of news reports regarding Rachel Canning’s lawsuit against her parents for child support and school tuition. Much of the media focus has been on Rachel’s “bad girl behavior,” rather than the legal framework or claims in the case.

While details are scant, what we do know right now is that on March 4, 2014, Judge Peter Bogaard decided there was no exigent circumstance (emergency) that would require the immediate payment of financial support or high school tuition.

It looks like the court denied Rachel’s request for tuition because Rachel’s high school promised to cover the cost of her final semester. The judge also found no basis to order emergency financial support. This could be because Rachel’s basic needs are currently met – she’s living with her best friend’s parents (who are apparently funding her lawsuit), and she has a job and therefore, some independent income.

Judge Bogaard ordered Rachel and her parents to return on April 22, 2014 for a full hearing, which will likely include witness testimony and documentary evidence. At that hearing, the judge will decide the major issues in this case – whether Rachel’s parents must provide some financial support and/or pay her college tuition.

In most states, this type of lawsuit would not get very far because children are generally considered emancipated (independent from their parents) when they turn 18 and/or or finish high school. Once emancipated, a child is no longer legally entitled to his or her parents’ financial support. New Jersey is among a minority of states where age does not automatically confer an emancipated status.

Again, details of the legal claims in the case are few, but it seems safe to assume some portion of this legal battle will focus on whether or not Rachel is emancipated.

How Courts Decide if a Child Is Emancipated

New Jersey courts do consider a child’s age in determining emancipation, but age is certainly not the only factor that comes into play. Although there’s a presumption that a child becomes emancipated at the age of 18, this presumption can be rebutted (overcome) by showing that the child has not reached a truly independent status. (The query is different for deciding whether a child under 18 is emancipated).

Under a long line of New Jersey cases, courts in the Garden State will consider several factors when deciding whether an 18-year old is emancipated, including:

  • the child’s needs
  • the child’s interests
  • the child’s independent resources
  • the family’s reasonable expectations
  • the parents’ and the child’s financial abilities, and
  • any other factor the court believes is relevant to the decision.

(See Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. 11, 18 (2007), citing Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982).) 

Covering College Tuition

If Judge Bogaard decides Rachel is emancipated, her parents’ duty to provide support ends. If not, the next decisions will focus on an amount for support and college tuition.

In New Jersey, there’s a strong trend towards requiring parents, if they are financially capable, to pay for college expenses. When making this decision, a judge will take several factors into account, including:

  • the reasonableness of the expectation for higher education
  • the amount sought by the child for the cost of the higher education
  • the parent’s ability to pay that cost
  • the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child
  • both parents’ financial resources
  • the child’s commitment to, and aptitude for, the requested education
  • the child’s financial resources, including assets held individually or in custodianship or trust
  • the child’s ability to earn income during the school year or on vacation
  • the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants
  • the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection, shared goals, and  responsiveness to parental advice and guidance, and
  • the relationship of the education sought to any prior training and to the child’s long-term goals.

In this case, the media has focused primarily on Rachel’s relationship to her parents and her responsiveness (or unresponsiveness) to their parental advice. While this is certainly an important factor, it’s only one of many the court may consider on April 22.

It’s impossible to read the tea leaves, and the judge seems to take issue with both sides. He’s been quoted as having admonished Rachel for her unruly behavior and her parents for how they handled the situation. NPR reports that the judge told the Cannings they “should have tried to get help for their daughter instead of cutting her off.”

So, despite reports implying Rachel lost her case, the major issues have yet to be determined. The April 22 hearing will be the one to watch in terms of understanding more about both sides’ legal claims and any precedent-setting outcomes from the New Jersey court.

See DivorceNet.com’s section on Child Support for more information about child support laws in your state.


The DOJ Extends Federal Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses

ringsOn Saturday, February 8, 2014, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced that in an effort to implement the Supreme Court’s historic decision in United States v. Windsor, the Department of Justice (which includes all of its agencies and programs) would follow a new policy of recognizing “valid same-sex marriages” – same-sex marriages that are entered into or celebrated in a jurisdiction (state, district or foreign country) which authorizes same-sex marriage.

A Little Background on the Department of Justice

The Office of the Attorney General heads the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and is considered the chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government (click here for a chart that will give you a better idea of how the DOJ is organized and what agencies and programs will be impacted by this new policy). Under the guidance of the Attorney General, the DOJ enforces federal criminal and civil laws on behalf of the United States.

On Monday, February 10, 2014, Attorney General Holder issued a formal memo outlining the DOJ’s new policy and some of the benefits now available to legally married same-sex couples.

Married is Married: the DOJ Will Follow the “Place of Celebration” Rule

The official memo makes clear that the DOJ will recognize valid same-sex marriages to the full extent possible under federal law, regardless of where a same-sex married couple currently resides.

As long as the marriage was celebrated in a state or foreign country that recognizes same-sex marriages (“place of celebration” rule), the DOJ will also recognize the marriage as valid, even if the couple (or one of the spouses) resides in a state that bans same-sex marriage. In short, it’s the place of celebration, not the place of residence, that matters to the DOJ.

Access to Department Benefits and Compensation Programs

DOJ agencies distributing benefits and compensation which depend on marital status will recognize valid same-sex marriages regardless of where the married spouses reside. Legally married same-sex spouses can now receive benefits and compensation (if otherwise eligible) through a number of programs, including the following:

  • the Public Safety Officer’s Benefits Program
  • the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and
  • the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program.

Bureau of Prison Policies Will Apply Equally to Same-Sex Spouses

All of the Bureau of Prisons’ policies that are affected by marital status will be interpreted to include valid same-sex marriages, again regardless of the laws of the state where an inmate is placed or where an inmate’s spouse lives. Same-sex spouses of inmates will now have the same rights as any other spouse, including the right to visitation at federal prisons and next-of-kin notification regarding inmate spouses.

Same-Sex Spouses May Invoke Marital Privileges in Federal Cases

The DOJ also revised how it will handle the invocation of marital privileges in both federal criminal and civil cases. This impacts both the confidential communications privilege (which protects the contents of confidential communications between spouses made during marriage) and the testimonial privilege (which, under certain circumstances, may protect a party or witness-spouse from being called to testify against his or her spouse). Under the new policy, legally married same-sex spouses can assert (or attempt to assert) these privileges in the same way that opposite-married couples do.

The memo provides the following:

  • the DOJ will consider a marriage valid for purposes of the marital privilege if an individual attempting to assert the privilege was or is validly married in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriages, and
  • if the DOJ is a party to a civil case where state law governs the use of marital privileges and a same-sex spouse asserts it, as a matter of policy, the DOJ (and its attorneys) won’t challenge the invocation based on the state’s laws regarding same-sex marriage. This policy will apply as long as the same-sex marriage is valid in the place it was entered into, even if the marriage is not considered valid in the state where the married spouses reside or formerly resided.

These benefits do not apply to same-sex couples that are registered in domestic partnerships or civil unions.

This is not a complete list of the benefits available to same-sex spouses under the DOJ’s new policy. You can contact the Chief of State, Civil Division for more information at 202-514-3301.


Same-Sex Marriage is on Hold in Utah

ringsOn Friday, December 20, 2013, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violates the equal protection rights of gay and lesbian couples. As news of the ruling broke, hundreds of same-sex couples from around the state began requesting marriage licenses.

According to The Huffington Post, county clerks in Utah issued more than 1225 marriage licenses between Friday December 20 and Thursday December 26; at least 74 percent or 905 of those licenses were issued to gay and lesbian couples. The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office broke its record of 85 marriage licenses in one day by issuing 353 licenses on Monday, December 23.

The State of Utah requested a temporary stay of the ruling, which would prevent any further same-sex marriages from taking place until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has had a chance to rule on Utah’s appeal. However, Judge Shelby denied that request. As a result, same-sex weddings will continue to take place in Utah pending the appeal, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

Utah state officials have indicated that they will ask the United States Supreme Court (as early as today) to stay the District Court’s ruling. It’s unclear if the state will ask the Supreme Court for any additional relief at this point.

The request will go to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency requests from the region that includes Utah. Justice Sotomayor has the authority to decide this issue on her own or ask the other Justices to weigh in. We’ll be sure to update our site as soon as we learn more.

UPDATE: On January 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the State of Utah’s request for a stay of the District Court’s ruling. No further same-sex marriages will be performed in Utah pending the appeal. The federal appeals panel plans to expedite it’s review of the case, so many hope to see a resolution soon.



New Mexico Becomes the 17th Marriage Equality State

On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage in the state and ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In the decision, Justice Edward L. Chavez wrote, “[w]e hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”

To read the full opinion, see NM Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.

Unlike other states, New Mexico never banned or allowed same-sex marriage, which left the issue of marriage equality unsettled across the state. Eight of the state’s 33 counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August 2013. County officials asked the state supreme court to clarify the law.

New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Check out Nolo’s LGBT Law section to learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

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