Marriage Equality and the Impact on Transgender Rights

Many by now have heard of the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling last month in Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriage a Constitutional right on the federal level.  The ruling further protects individuals seeking same-sex marriages and offers protection from any state attempt to interfere with this clear fundamental right. A less publicized, but equally-relevant question is how the ruling applies to transgender individuals.    J. Courtney Sullivan writes in a recent New York Times Op-Ed about a Texas widow named Christie Littleton who, in 1996 after her Husband’s death at age 35 of a misdiagnosed blood clot, filed a medical malpractice suit under a state statute permitting surviving spouses to do so. Defense attorneys fighting against Littleton’s malpractice suit successfully argued in a pretrial motion to dismiss the suit that because Christie Littleton was born a man, she therefore could not be another man’s spouse, citing to the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress in 1994.  The Judge in Littleton’s malpractice suit agreed, ruling that Christie Littleton had no standing under the state statute to file a medical malpractice suit on behalf of her deceased husband.  Incredibly, Christie Littleton’s sex reassignment procedure at age 28 had already been acknowledged by the state of Texas, as her birth certificate and driver’s license with the state both reflected that she was a female, and the Littleton’s had obtained a marriage license in the state. J. Courtney Sullivan sees Obergefell v. Hodges as a victory for transgender individuals moving forward, citing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that 14th Amendment equal protection extends to “intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”  Case law in state...

How to Talk About Dying and Why

The New York Times has recently run a series of op-ed pieces dealing with end of life  discussions that many of the authors navigate through their personal experiences and what they would have done differently for loved-ones in terms of planning for death and health decisions prior to death. In a particularly moving piece, Ellen Goodman writes that her and her mother shared conversations about everything in life, but as her mother’s health slowly deteriorated, they never had a conversation about how her mother wished to live in her final years and what decisions she would make for herself.  This led to Goodman having to make crucial medical decisions on her mother’s behalf that caused uncertainty for Goodman as to how her mother would have decided which created a feeling that Goodman may not have been respecting her mother’s true wishes. Goodman cites to a variety of reasons why people do not have these discussions, including that many feel it is “too soon” to have the conversation or feel uncomfortable talking about the issue with loved ones.  Goodman  points out  that one of the best ways to honor and preserve the memory and dignity of a person is to attempt to follow their wishes as much as possible when they can no longer make decisions for themselves. The best way to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are followed in terms of medical care, funeral arrangements and disposition of property upon death is to meet with a professional with experience in estate planning.    If you have more questions about these matters, you should not hesitate to schedule a consultation with our...

mistress suing ex for refusing to divorce his wife

A recently-filed lawsuit in Manhattan may call to mind the phrase “only in New York!” According to a New York Post article by Julia Marsh, Theodora Corsell, age 67, is suing her 88 year old former lover, James Greenwald, for refusing to divorce his current wife, Marilee Greenwald. Corsell, however, is not suing under any claim that is normally reserved for the family court system.  Rather, Corsell claims that she is due the money (her claim is for over $2 million) because of her “professional services” rendered by her on behalf of of Mr. Greenwald that “…were separate and apart from … the parties’ romantic relationship” and that once it was clear Mr. Greenwald would not be leaving his wife for Corsell, Corsell realized she would not be compensated and decided to seek redress through the courts. Corsell contends that she acted as Mr. Greenwald’s de facto personal assistant, handling everything from resale of Mr. Greenwald’s unused New York Giants tickets to thwarting what sounds like an extortion scheme cooked up by Mr. Greenwald’s prior mistress.  Ms. Corsell further contends in her lawsuit that Mr. Greenwald promised “I owe you everything and I will compensate you” for her services.  It will certainly be interesting to see how the New York court handles this suit. Legally speaking, it would be a rare situation where a cause of action for damages can be sustained against someone merely for refusing to divorce their current spouse.   However, it appears the legal theory that Ms. Corsell is proceeding under is known as quantum meruit which in Latin means “what one has earned.” This theory is most often utilized in contract...

Marriage and Millennials: does waiting longer improve marriage?

A recent study done by Demographic Intelligence suggests that marriage rates are lower than they have been in the past century.  Specifically, 6.74 marriages per 1,000 people in the United States.    Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune released the below article offering several considerations as to why this is occurring.    Stevens quotes the president of Demographic Intelligence, Sam Sturgeon, who suggests factors such as “sluggish job opportunities for the less educated and declines in American religion” are part of the reason. Stevens, citing Northwestern researcher Eli Finkel, offers an alternative theory that, despite the lower statistics, modern marriages are actually becoming stronger and more satisfying than at any point in history.  One argument Finkel offers and Stevens appears to agree with is that individuals are more focused on receiving an education and stabilizing their careers before they get settled into a marriage, whereas earlier in the century many individuals took a “marriage first, everything else second” approach. Finkel also explores how socioeconomic factors today affect a marriage’s stability.   It appears both authors would agree that individuals who are committed to education and career stability prior to entering marriage will have less financial pressure on their marriage.  While financial pressure can affect those in a variety of income brackets (including high and low earners),  it is no doubt one of the main factors that cause a dissolution of marriage.   Interestingly, Finkel notes that divorce rates have declined since 1980 after doubling between 1960 and 1980.    Could it be that individuals, by stabilizing their careers and finances prior to marriage, are removing one of the main causes of divorce before the relationship even...

When a couple breaks up, who decides if their frozen embryos have a right to live?

Nick Loeb made news recently after writing an op-ed opinion piece in the New York Times describing how Loeb filed suit in a California Court in 2014 seeking to protect two frozen embryos Loeb created with his ex-fiance, Sofia Vergara, the star of hit television show “Modern Family.” Loeb alleges in his lawsuit that, once he was engaged to Vergara,  Vergara insisted that they use a surrogate mother to carry any children the couple would have.  The parties created two female embryos thereafter which remained frozen while the parties searched for a potential surrogate mother.  Loeb and Vergara then split up.  Loeb further alleges that he requested Vergara turn over the embryos to him with the promise that Loeb would be responsible for all parental and financial responsibilities for the children if Vergara did not wish to share custody.  Vergara refused and has purportedly stated through her attorney that she wants to keep the embryos frozen indefinitely. Loeb argues that keeping the embryos frozen is “tantamount to killing them” and instead insists, similar to the right a woman has to bring a pregnancy to term over a man’s objection, that a man should be entitled to bring his embryos to term even if a woman objects.  According to Loeb, they signed a form stating that any embryos created could be brought to term only with both parties’ consent, despite a California law requiring the form to indicate what would happen to the embryos if the parties separated. Although legal disputes involving frozen embryos are rare,  with scientific breakthroughs and more couples seeking less-traditional pregnancy assistance with fertility experts, it is...

The Unintended Consequences of Child Support Enforcement

Recent headlines were made in Charleston, South Carolina when Mr. Walter L. Scott’s automobile was stopped by a police officer for a traffic infraction, during which Mr. Scott fled on foot, and ultimately was shot in the back several times by the police officer. While the end result of this terrible tragedy was captured on video, leading to the arrest of the police officer, many questioned what led Mr. Scott to flee the officer in the first place. It was later revealed that Mr. Scott had an outstanding arrest warrant for unpaid child support that had been issued two years prior. In the New York Times article linked below, Frances Robles and Shaila Dewan take an excellent look at how child support enforcement laws nationwide, created in the 80s and 90s during a time in which “deadbeat dads” was a term used to describe fathers who were concerned more about providing for themselves than their children and were considered a scourge on society. Robles and Dewan describe how collection efforts were ramped up in the late 90s to include automatic paycheck deductions for child support (referred to also as “Income Withholding” in Florida), and also included incarceration where a court found that a parent with a child support obligation holds the ability to pay the child support and has made the decision not to pay. The authors describe that these tactics work terrifically for high-earning individuals with child support obligations, but examine in greater detail these tactics are most often used on low earning individuals. Robles and Dewan point to a 2007 Urban Institute study of child support debt...