Analysis and Commentary on Family Law

“Dot the i’s and Cross the t’s”: Louisiana Supreme Court Voids Prenuptial Agreement for Signature Defect

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes a case in which the Louisiana Supreme Court voided a prenuptial agreement for its failure to abide by strict formalities required in that state. Grossman discusses the history of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and uses this case and one from New York to illustrate the importance of paying attention to the details when forming these documents.

A Cool Wind Blows Over an Alaska Marriage, but Alienation of Affections Claim Not Viable

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the Alaska Supreme Court holding that alienation of affections is not a cognizable claim in that state. Grossman explains the history of so-called heart-balm actions, including alienation of affections, and chronicles their gradual decline over time in most states.

Is Sex Necessary? (Legally Speaking)

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Stanford Law professor Lawrence M. Friedman consider whether a sexual tie should continue to be a component of the institution of marriage. Grossman and Friedman describe the history of marriage and provide two examples where two people who cannot marry each other arguably still deserve some sort of legal protection for their relationships.

“When Love Yielded to Litigation”: Virginia Court Says Engagement Ring Goes Back

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court holding that the recipient of an engagement ring must return it after the engagement was called off. Grossman explains the legal background of engagement rings and other gifts and provides some sage wisdom to couples wishing to become engaged and eventually to marry.

Friends with Benefits: Texas Man Who Donated Sperm to a Friend Has Parental Rights

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman describes a recent decision by a Texas appellate court applying that state’s parentage laws to a situation involving a man who donated his sperm so his friend could become pregnant. Grossman notes that while resolution of the “donor versus dad” question differs from state to state depending on the particular laws that apply, the facts of this case proved straightforward given the language of the Texas statute at issue.

Limits on Grandparent Visitation: The Continuing Ripples of Troxel v. Granville

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman discusses the continuing impact of Troxel v. Granville, a seminal case in family law that addressed third-party visitation rights, particularly those of grandparents. Grossman lays out Troxel’s holding and explains how it relates to family law in a larger context, then analyzes a more recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court family law case with facts that the court held distinguished it from the broader statute addressed in Troxel. This decision, Grossman posits, was correct. The legislature in the Pennsylvania case had overstepped its bounds, to the significant detriment of parental rights.

The New York Court of Appeals Confers Parental Status on Same-Sex Partners Intending to Parent

Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb discusses a recent decision by New York’s highest court expanding the definition of parental status to include same-sex partners intending to parent. Colb explains the court’s ruling and discusses a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the rights of non-parents that might stand in the New York court’s way.

Separated Spouses Beware: Post-Separation Adultery Bars Fault-Based Divorce

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in which it held that a man’s adultery after separating from his wife barred him from seeking a divorce on the grounds on her prior adultery. Grossman provides the historical background of fault and no-fault divorces and explains why the court reached this correct, albeit strange, conclusion.

The Broken Clock: The Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Misguided, 37-Year-Old Ban on Economic Rights for Cohabiting Couples

SMU Dedman School of Law Professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court reaffirming a decades-old decision by the same court that seemed obsolete even at the time. Grossman argues that the recent decision unfairly withholds protections from nonmarital families and does not actually serve the purported public policy purpose of favoring marriage.

A Safe Haven for Kody? Sister Wives Star Loses on Appeal, but Protected From Bigamy Prosecution in Utah

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reinstating Utah’s criminal law banning bigamy. Grossman explains the facts leading up to the lawsuit, the holding of the district, and the reasoning behind the Tenth Circuit’s reversal.

North Carolina’s HB 2: Does Passing an Obviously Unconstitutional Law Make the Law Even More Unconstitutional?

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman discusses North Carolina’s recent passage of House Bill 2 (HB 2), which purports to take away existing anti-discrimination rights from LGBT people. Grossman explains why the law is unconstitutional and considers whether, in light of the law’s patent unconstitutionality, the law reflects even greater animus by those who passed it.

Alabama: The U.S. Constitution Applies to You, Too

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent per curiam opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in which it instructed the Alabama Supreme Court to obey the U.S. Constitution and give full effect to a lesbian couple’s adoption decree from Georgia. Grossman describes the facts leading up to the case and explains why the High Court ruled firmly as it did, and why the Alabama court was incorrect.

You Made Your (Marital) Bed, Now Lie in It

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision by an appellate court in New York holding that a harsh but voluntary prenuptial agreement could be enforced as written. Grossman points out that the decision is consistent with a larger trend of courts enforcing prenuptial agreements, even when their terms might seem objectively one-sided or unfair.

More Than Kin: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules That Stepfather Granted Custody Rights Also Owes Child Support

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a case in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a stepfather who won shared custody of his former stepchildren must also pay child support. Grossman points out that this unusual ruling serves as a warning for parents and stepparents about the consequences of their choices about childrearing during marriage.

Frozen Embryo Disputes

Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb uses a recent court dispute over a contract governing a divorced couple’s frozen embryos as the basis for considering some important issues that would arise in a frozen embryo dispute with no contract. Colb points out that resolving such a dispute would require careful balancing of the right of one party to procreate, on the one hand, and the right of the other party not to procreate, on the other.

Baby Mama: Appellate Court Declares Sherri Shepherd Is the Legal Mother of a Child Born to Her via Surrogate

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision by a Pennsylvania appellate court that Sherri Shepherd, despite her arguments to the contrary, is the legal mother of a child born via surrogate. Grossman describes the background of the case and the national patchwork of state laws on surrogacy and explains why the appellate court came to the correct conclusion as a matter of law.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the leading church/state scholars in the United States, a Fox Distinguis... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more