Analysis and Commentary on Family Law

The Best Laid Plans: New York Court Considers Effect of Couple’s Pre-adoption Agreement

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by an appellate court in New York clarifying the rights of two adults who had a pre-adoption agreement but separated before actually adopting a child. Grossman praises the court for using language that would preserve the rights of lesbian co-parents broadly, but finding that the woman in this particular case is not a co-parent.

End of an Era: New Jersey Legalizes Surrogacy, 29 Years After Baby M

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the New Jersey legislature’s recent passage of a bill to legalize gestation surrogacy. Grossman describes the long battle over surrogacy in that state, from the nationally influential decision by its supreme court, In the Matter of Baby M, to two surrogacy bills passed by the legislature but vetoed by then-Governor Chris Christie, to the present bill signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy.

The Price of Spyware: New York Husband Denied Marital Assets Because He “Hacked” the Process

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by a New York trial court finding a man's egregious use of spyware to eavesdrop on his wife's conversations with her lawyer during their ongoing divorce, and his destruction of the evidence of the spying, supported denying him marital assets in the divorce. Grossman describes the very standard for considering whether to consider fault when awarding alimony and argues that the court arrived at the correct conclusion in this extraordinary circumstance.

New York: The City That Never Sleeps . . . in a State That Never Updates Its Parentage Laws

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a difficult case in New York that illustrates that state's need for clear legislative direction regarding parentage and modern families. Grossman describes the background of the case and explains how the lack of comprehensive parentage laws leads to unpredictable and often undesirable results.

Considering a New York Bill to Legalize Compensated Surrogacy

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers some pros and cons of legalizing and enforcing gestational surrogacy agreements, as the New York State legislature is currently considering doing. Colb points out that legalizing these agreements would help clean up the patchwork of different surrogacy laws in different states (and thus make the outcome of conflicts more predictable), but she also notes that government endorsement of surrogacy may perpetuate or ignore related issues of equality and born children seeking adoption.

Getting it Right: The Arizona Supreme Court Applies Marital Presumption to Same-Sex Spouse

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court that correctly applies the US Supreme Court’s reasoning in Obergefell v. Hodges to hold that the marital presumption applies to same-sex couples just as it applies to opposite-sex couples. Grossman provides a brief legal history of same-sex marriage and the attendant obligations and benefits and praises the Arizona court for its clear and well reasoned opinion.

Unprotected: Lesbian Co-Parent in Idaho Has No Rights to Her Partner’s Biological Child

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the Idaho Supreme Court taking a narrow view of the parental rights of lesbian co-parents. Grossman explains the background of that case and the patchwork of laws state courts across the United States use to reach inconsistent, and often unpredictable, results with respect to the parental rights of unmarried same-sex partners.

California Considers Bill to Regulate (But Not Prohibit) Child Marriage

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments critically on a California bill that would regulate (but not prohibit) child marriage. Colb argues that the law, which in its current proposed form would allow parents and courts to give consent for a minor child to marry, disregards important norms about children’s rights and the importance of real consent to a sexual relationship.

Independence Day: The Texas Supreme Court Refuses to Hold That the Federal Constitutional Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Has Full Force in Texas

SMU Dedman School of Law professors Joanna L. Grossman and Dale Carpenter comment on a recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court in which it refuses to give effect to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. Grossman and Carpenter explain why the Texas court’s decision was clearly wrong and why factors other than merits might have (though they should not have) affected the ruling in that case.

Summarily Reversed: Arkansas’s Attempt to Flout Obergefell v. Hodges Is Blocked

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld that state’s attempt to avoid the marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Grossman describes the ways in which some states, such as Arkansas in this case, have tried to avoid, subvert, or limit Obergefell’s holding, and she discusses the Supreme Court’s simple yet clear response, as well as the significance of Justice Gorsuch’s dissent from the per curiam opinion.

“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.

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 U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in con... 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 the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... 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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more