Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses an interesting legal issue: If a person enters into a civil union with one person, and then later enters into a marriage with another, is he or she guilty of bigamy? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said yes, ruling that for this purpose, a civil union is tantamount to a marriage. Grossman sets out the background regarding the advent of civil unions in a number of states, and then explores the bigamy issue. She also notes that because the civil union is still a relatively a novel legal status, unforeseen problems have sprung up, such as the difficulty of getting courts to dissolve such unions—which has led some couples to be stuck in unhappy civil unions without recourse, and thus to simply walk away, with no legal termination of the union. When a member of such a couple then sought to marry, Grossman notes, the bigamy issue posed another thorny legal conundrum for the courts. To make things even more complicated, too, Grossman observes, some states do not recognize other states’ civil unions, and others do.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the Supreme Court’s recent family law decision in Astrue v. Capato. As Grossman explains, the case involved a woman’s becoming pregnant with her husband’s sperm—which he had had frozen—after he passed away. The legal question that the situation raised was whether the resulting posthumously conceived children would be deemed to be the husband’s children under the Social Security Act, for purposes of receiving child survivor’s benefits. As Grossman explains, the answer to this question will vary based on the law of the state. Grossman describes some of the complexities of modern parentage law, which derives mostly from state law, but also has federal law aspects. She also explains why the Court ruled as it did, deeming the children at issue not to count as the husband’s children for Social Security survivor’s purposes, and giving six rationales for reaching that result. Grossman also calls upon states to clarify the status of posthumously conceived children, rather than leaving them in legal limbo and out in the cold for Social Security survivor's benefits purposes.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the important questions of whether and when a child who is born outside the U.S. can acquire citizenship from a U.S. citizen parent. Grossman focuses especially on the heartbreaking case of U.S. citizen Ellie Lavi, who gave birth to twins in Israel. When Lavi sought U.S. citizenship for the twins, the State Department informed her that the twins would not be deemed U.S. citizens unless Lavi could prove that the donor sperm or egg came from a U.S. citizen. Grossman strongly criticizes the State Department’s decision to, in effect, deem the gamete donors, not Lavi, the babies’ parents for purposes of U.S. citizenship—even though no one disputes that Lavi, a U.S. citizen, gave birth to the twins. Grossman covers the ways in which children can gain U.S. citizenship by descent; describes the more onerous rules for out-of-wedlock children; considers whether treating unwed citizen fathers and unwed citizen mothers differently is discriminatory; and discusses who counts as a “mother” and thus a person able to convey citizenship. Finally, Grossman considers four interesting scenarios regarding the descent of citizenship to children; describes the consequences of non-citizenship; and urges the State Department to deal more fairly and justly with the modern realities of reproductive technology.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry addresses the intersection of divorce, digital identities and virtual property. In the course of her analysis, she asks an interesting question that is likely to become more and more prevalent, as virtual property becomes ever more popular and more valuable: When a couple is divorcing, what happens to their virtual property? Ramasastry also notes the role that Facebook has played as a cause or factor in many divorces, and considers the questions of whether, and how, virtual property should be divided in divorce proceedings. Moreover, noting the increasing use of social-networking activity in such proceedings, Ramasastry suggests that it's wise to be less social online—especially regarding new relationships—while divorce proceedings are still ongoing.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the situation in Washington State, which is now poised to legalize same-sex marriage. Grossman contends that the Washington State situation is significant not only because Washington State will now become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, but also because—for the first time since the beginning of the same-sex marriage controversy—a state legislature will move from a statutory ban on same-sex marriage, to a statutory authorization of it. Grossman covers Washington State’s path through many different stages of the same-sex marriage controversy; the details of the bill passed by the Washington State senate; and the potential implications of the State of Washington’s experience for the same-sex marriage movement more generally.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the legal consequences of different forms of free, non-anonymous sperm donation. As she explains, some of these donations are connected to the online Free Sperm Donor Registry. Grossman, relying in part on previous reportage by 20/20, comments on situations such as that of a man who has given away so much sperm that the government has told him to stop its “manufacture,” and men who donate sperm via what is called “natural insemination”—that is, sex. Grossman explains why in-person sperm donation, especially via “natural insemination” raises complex questions about the legal rights and obligations of the sperm donor—with donors potentially liable for child support, and potentially able to seek visitation or even co-parent status. She also notes that in-person sperm donation may be governed by—and may, in some instances, violate—FDA regulations pertaining to the donation of human cells and tissue. Among other legal sources, Grossman covers the original and revised Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) in the column.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a New Jersey decision regarding surrogacy. Grossman explains why the surrogacy agreement at issue was ruled to be unenforceable by the New Jersey court; how a custody dispute arose after the two babies that the surrogate had carried were born; the factors that were legally relevant to that dispute; and the reasons why the court, in the end, awarded sole custody to the babies’ biological father. As Grossman notes, the case is of interest not only as a significant precedent regarding the increasingly common practice of surrogacy, but also due to its unusual facts, which pitted a gay couple against a woman who believes homosexuality is sinful.
In this two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman draws on an unusual source, the reality television show Teen Mom, to illuminate a number of family law issues. Here, in Part Two, Grossman covers issues that have arisen on Teen Mom relating to legal fatherhood, parental rights, child custody, domestic violence, and open adoption. Using the situations of the young women on Teen Mom as examples, Grossman answers interesting family law questions like these: Does legal fatherhood matter? How are disagreements over custody and visitation resolved, and what kind of disagreements are likely to arise? How and why might custody over a child be relinquished? Do grandparents have visitation rights, and in what circumstances? How does open adoption work, and what problems might occur with open adoption? Finally, what happens when there is family violence? By illustrating instances where these questions arise, Grossman notes, Teen Mom ends up being surprisingly educational for a reality television series.
In this two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman draws on an unusual source, the reality television show Teen Mom, to illuminate a number of family law issues. Here, in Part One, Grossman begins by contrasting the precursor show, 16 and Pregnant, which raised few legal issues, with Teen Mom, which raises a plethora of them. She explains why teen pregnancy raises few legal issues, whereas the birth of a child to a teenage mother often, as Teen Mom illustrates, triggers legal conflicts. Specifically, Grossman covers abortion rights for minors and the very limited rights of putative unwed fathers, prior to birth. She also quickly previews the nature of the many post-childbirth legal disputes that she will discuss in Part Two of the series.
In the second of a two-part series of columns raising questions about the legal effect of online ordination, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses whether persons who are ordained only by an online ministry, with no prerequisites for ordination but the payment of a fee, can legally perform marriages. Such online ministries include the Pastafarians (who belong to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), the Church of Body Modification, the Universal Life Church, and others. Grossman points out that in some states, such ordinations mean nothing, and thus, marriages performed by such “ministers” will not be valid. She focuses, especially, on New York, where the validity of such marriages is especially doubtful.
In this column, the first in a two-part series, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the law regarding marriage, and, in particular, the question whether couples whose marriage is performed by a friend who has been ordained for the event by an online ministry, but who has no congregation or other trappings of religious power, have entered into a valid marriage. She notes that in New York, for example, and certain other states, the answer may, in some cases, be no. As part of Grossman’s investigation of the issue, she became a minister of the Universal Life Church (ULC) herself, in order to learn what was required. She also discusses key Mississippi and Virginia cases regarding ULC marriages. In Part Two of this series—appearing on this site in two weeks, on November 15—Grossman will provide a detailed jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction analysis of cases in which the validity of online-minister marriages have been challenged.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on how adult adoption—that is, a person’s being adopted by another when that person is already an adult—affects that person’s ability to inherit from his or her original and new relatives, respectively. Grossman focuses in particular on a recent Virginia Supreme Court case in which an adult woman’s being adopted at the age of 53 meant that her niece and nephews were no longer the legal heirs of the woman’s biological sister, who had previously been their aunt. She also explains why adult adoption is typically easy: Unlike the adoption of a child, it comes with no support or other obligations so there is little, if any, court scrutiny. In addition, Grossman explains how adult adoption has been sought by members of gay couples seeking to establish a legal relationship with each other in states where gay marriage is not recognized, with mixed results: New York will not allow such adoptions, but Delaware and other states will. Grossman also describes the trusts-and-estates consequences of adult adoption, in the Virginia case and in other scenarios, and the historic development of the practice. And she reminds potential adult adoptees that while an adoption may open up new inheritance rights, it also may foreclose old ones, with the prior biological family, for the establishment of the new, adoptive family relationship typically means that the old, biological one no longer exists.
In this column, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman winds up her two-part series on the rights of posthumously conceived children. (Such children are born after their father has passed away, and their mother has used his previously preserved sperm to become pregnant.) With both inheritances and Social Security benefits at issue, there are potentially high stakes in this area of law. In this column, Grossman covers the different answers that various state and federal courts have given to the question whether posthumously conceived children have the same rights to inherit from their fathers, and to receive Social Security “surviving child” benefits as a result of their fathers’ deaths, that other children have. Grossman also notes that not just a number of courts, but also twelve state legislatures, have addressed this issue, and explains the conclusions they have reached.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which raises a fascinating question stemming from modern reproductive technology: Is a child deemed to be legally related to her biological father if she was conceived after he died? The question proves to be crucial when it comes to Social Security and inheritance benefits. Grossman sets forth the facts of the Eighth Circuit case, which involved Social Security benefits; covers some new complications in the law of parentage; and explains why the Eighth Circuit, in the case before it, ultimately ruled against the child and her mother.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the evolving law on the rights of a lesbian co-parent—that is, a woman who participates in the planned conception, birth, and/or rearing of her same-sex partner’s biological or adopted child. Grossman focuses, in particular, on a recent Ohio Supreme Court case that took a somewhat unusual approach to defining the rights of lesbian co-parents. In addition, she describes other states’ varying approaches to the issue, and raises the question whether—in lieu of the traditional legal dichotomy between parent and non-parent—there may be some middle ground into which the legal status of a lesbian co-parent may fall.
Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the reality television show Sister Wives and the litigation that is connected to it. The family depicted on Sister Wives—consisting of one man, four “wives,” and 16 children—fled Utah to avoid potential bigamy charges. (Nevada’s bigamy law defines the offense in a less restrictive way than Utah’s does.) Now, the family’s lawyer, Jonathan Turley, is challenging Utah’s law as unconstitutional. Hamilton contends, to the contrary, that the law is perfectly constitutional, and explains the history of the law and the related precedent in support of her argument.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the culmination of the lengthy fight over the estate of Anna Nicole Smith’s late husband, J. Howard Marshall II, a billionaire Texas oil tycoon. J. Howard’s son Pierce was the other party asserting a claim to the estate. After Anna Nicole and Pierce both passed away, the litigation still continued, pursued by their own estates. Grossman chronicles how this clash made it all the way to the Supreme Court twice; explains why the dispute had spawned litigation in both Texas and California; and describes the reasons that led the High Court to ultimately rule against Anna Nicole—and why it inspired Chief Justice Roberts to quote from the Dickens novel “Bleak House.”