Analysis and Commentary on Family Law

Men Who Give It Away: The Potential Perils of Free and Non-Anonymous Sperm Donation

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.

The Complications of Surrogacy: A New Jersey Court Refuses to Uphold a Surrogacy Arrangement, but Awards Full Custody to the Intended Father

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.

Everything I Need to Know About Family Law I Learned from Teen Mom: Part Two in a Two-Part 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 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.

Everything I Need to Know About Family Law I Learned From Teen Mom: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

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.

Can Laypersons Ordained Online as Universal Life Church Ministers, or the Like, Officiate at Weddings? In Some States, the Answer Is No

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.

Can Universal Life Church Ministers Officiate at Weddings? In Some States, the Answer Is No Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

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.

The Potential Consequences of Adult Adoption for Inheritance: A Recent Virginia Supreme Court Ruling

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.

A Growing Debate Over the Rights of Posthumously Conceived Children: Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

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.

A Growing Debate Over the Rights of Posthumously Conceived Children: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

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.

Do Lesbian Co-Parents Have Rights? A Recent Ohio Ruling Offers an Unusual Answer

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.

Sister Wives: An Illustration of Why Polygamy Is, and Should Be, Illegal

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.

The Last Word: The Supreme Court Rules That Anna Nicole Smith Is Entitled to Nothing From Her Late Husband’s Estate

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.”

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 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 country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... 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