Analysis and Commentary on Family Law

Will the Lower Court Consensus on Same-Sex Marriage Influence the Supreme Court?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses how the lower courts’ consistent rulings in favor of same-sex marriage might influence a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dorf observes that every single judge to rule on the question has relied on the Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor for the conclusion that SSM bans are unconstitutional. He concludes that while the lower courts’ decisions have no binding effect on the Supreme Court, they might serve as a legal barometer of what is legally plausible and as conduits of public opinion.

A Decade of Change: The Tenth Anniversary of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman reflects on the progress of same-sex marriage in the United States over the past decade. She notes that on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Grossman describes how the movement gained momentum and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor contributed substantially to that rapid change. She observes that as of now, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage, and that number is only going to increase.

Married Couple’s Phone Sex Did Not Force Divorce Clock to Reset

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a recent decision by a Maryland appeals court holding that a couple’s engaging in phone sex does not constitute cohabitation for the purpose of divorce. Grossman describes the history of fault and no-fault divorce in Maryland and explains why the court reached the decision it did in this case. Although she acknowledges that the court’s reasoning is sound, she presents two considerations that might have supported the opposite conclusion.

Adoption by Gay Couple Not Blocked by Illegal Surrogacy Agreement

Justia columnist and Hofsta law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a New York family court’s holding that the illegality of a surrogacy agreement should not preclude adoption of the children born from it. Grossman provides an overview of the practice of surrogacy and the legislation its advent sparked, and discusses New York law on that subject. She concludes that the court correctly balances the best interests of the children against the requirements of an outdated law on surrogacy.

The High Price of Badmouthing One’s Spouse During Divorce

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses one aspect of the highly public divorce between Ira and Janice Schacter. She notes that a court recently held that the wife’s decision to vilify her husband in the press, which led to a reduction in his ability to attract clients, was sufficient cause to reduce her share of the marital property. Grossman comments on the judge’s reasoning and raises two key points that could bring the decision into question.

The “Agunah” Dilemma in Orthodox Jewish Circles

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on one manifestation of gender inequity inherent in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism—the “get” requirement for a religiously recognized divorce. Colb explains how this requirement gives the husband the unilateral power to decide whether and for how long the marriage lasts. She suggests that traditional communities should reinterpret divorce in a manner that allows any unhappy partner to successfully exit a marriage.

The Red State Scare: Federal Court in Texas Invalidates Ban on Marriages by Same-Sex Couples

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman notes that first Utah, then Oklahoma, then Kentucky, and now Texas have seen at least some aspects of their anti-same-sex marriage rules invalidated by federal courts. Red states are unlikely to shift as quickly as blue states, Grossman notes, but change on this issue is inevitable, and only in one direction. She also notes the irony of Justice Scalia's words being used against him.

Kentucky to Become a “Second Paradise” for Same-Sex Married Couples

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the status of same-sex marriage in Kentucky. There, a federal court’s ruling in Bourke v. Beshear concluded that whether or not a state has the power to refuse to authorize same-sex marriages on its own turf, it does not have the constitutional power to refuse to recognize those that are validly celebrated elsewhere. Grossman notes that Bourke joins a growing number of cases in which recognition issues are at the forefront, a trend that was ignited by the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in United States v. Windsor, which found fault in the federal government’s decision to single out same-sex marriages for non-recognition.

Secrets and Lies: A New Ohio Law Opens the Adoption Closet

As Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman explains, under a newly enacted law, adult adoptees in Ohio can now seek access to their original birth certificates, with the State’s joining a small number of other States that have made an about-face in their thinking about the role of secrecy in adoption, and have joined the gradual shift towards greater openness. Grossman also describes the three key eras in American adoption law.

Ohio’s March Toward Marriage Equality

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a recent ruling by a federal judge in Ohio striking down that state’s laws banning recognition of same-sex marriages validly performed in other states. Kemp describes the facts and legal reasoning of that case and explains how the ruling affects residents of Ohio and its potential implications outside that state. He predicts that although the scope of the ruling is quite narrow—affecting only death certificates for Ohio residents with same-sex surviving spouses—it strongly suggests an imminent change in that state and elsewhere in the country.

De Facto Parentage and the Rights of Former Stepparents

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a complicated and still somewhat novel area of family law: the rights of former stepparents. Focusing on a recent case in this area of law that was decided by the Washington State Supreme Court, Grossman discusses that court's reasoning regarding both children's interests and parents' constitutional rights.

Sperm Donors on the Large and Small Screen

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on instances of real-life and fictional complications regarding sperm donation. The fictional story is told through the Vince Vaughan film Deliveryman. The real-life stories are told on a new MTV show, Generation Cryo, which depicts the quest of a teenage girl to meet her fifteen half-siblings and the anonymous sperm donor responsible for all of their conceptions.

Hawaii Comes Full Circle on Same-Sex Marriage

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman chronicles Hawaii’s role in the same-sex marriage controversy—including its being the site of the beginning of the modern battle over same-sex marriage, although back then, Hawaii did not itself legalize same-sex marriage. But as Grossman notes, 20 years later, Hawaii now finally has legalized same-sex marriage, thus closing the circle. She also explains why Hawaii’s action should never have had the impact it did, given the proper interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

Same-Sex Weddings at the Jersey Shore

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the recent developments in New Jersey culminating in today’s first same-sex marriages performed in that state. She describes the relatively complex journey to marriage equality in that state and explains how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last term in United States v. Windsor led to the New Jersey Supreme Court refusing to delay enforcement of a lower court’s ruling striking down the ban on same-sex marriage.

California Allows Children to Have More Than Two Legal Parents

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a ruling allowing a child to have three legal parents, and a related measure that California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law. Grossman covers both the facts and law pertaining to the case, and explains why California, alone among the states, allowed a three-parent situation to be established.

Is Virginia the Next Major Same-Sex Marriage Battlefield?

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp describes two recent lawsuits filed in Virginia challenging that state’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. Kemp describes the two cases, explains why Virginia is a favorable venue for such legal challenges, and notes the prevalence of other similar cases around the country. Kemp concludes that the existence of so many cases challenging discriminatory laws must be seen as a step in the right direction for same-sex marriage advocates.

Last Rights and the Battle Over Huguette Clark’s Will

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman together comment on an epic contest over an estate that totaled over $300 million. Grossman and Friedman explain why the estate at issue, belonging to a woman named Huguette Clark, raised a host of complex issues that were ripe for a will contest, and they comment on the possibility that the will contest might have been avoided in various ways.

A South Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Challenge, and Predictions as to the Outcome of Future Litigation in This Area

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a recent case filed in federal court in South Carolina challenging the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriages. Kemp describes the facts and arguments of that case, Bradacs v. Haley, and compares it to another recent case filed in Ohio challenging that state’s own laws precluding recognition of same-sex marriages. Kemp notes one particular parallel between arguments in the two cases and predicts, based on this parallel, that we will see similar challenges in several other states with comparably structured domestic relations laws.

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... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... 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... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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