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  Family Law - Legal News


A jilted husband's lawsuit against a doctor accused of stealing his wife's love can proceed after a North Carolina appeals court ruled Tuesday that the husband can continue suing the spouse's lover, seeking damages.

The state Court of Appeals decision resurrects a lawsuit that a trial judge had thrown out in Forsyth County, whose seat is Winston-Salem. The judge ruled that state law violates a person's constitutional free speech and free expression rights to engage in intimate sexual activity and expression with other consenting adults.

North Carolina is one of only about a half-dozen states that still allow lawsuits accusing a cheating spouse's lover of alienation of affection and criminal conversation.

"These laws were born out of misogyny and in modern times are often used as tools for enterprising divorce lawyers seeking leverage over the other side," Judge Richard Dietz wrote in the unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel. Nevertheless, such lawsuits "are designed to prevent and remedy personal injury, and to protect the promise of monogamy that accompanies most marriage commitments."

The court said Marc Malecek filed the lawsuit after his wife, a nurse, had an affair in 2015 with Dr. Derek Williams, a physician at the hospital where the woman works. Williams challenged the laws as unconstitutional, citing a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision voiding a Texas law outlawing homosexual acts because liberty meant allowing adults to make their own decisions about conduct.

Williams argued that the state laws "target extra-marital intimacy or sex because the State disapproves of expressing that intimacy while married to someone else," Dietz wrote.

The largest alienation award in state history was in 2011, when a Wake County judge awarded $30 million to the former wife of a Raleigh business owner. The ex-wife had sued the businessman's current spouse.

About 200 lawsuits alleging alienation are filed each year in North Carolina, but the potential liability is raised in virtually every divorce case that involves infidelity, Raleigh divorce attorney Lisa Angel said in an interview.

"People who are suffering a divorce as a result of an affair, there's a lot of economic damage. It's not that hard to make the case, as the court is making it clear here, that there's injury to a person when this happens," Angel said.




The New Jersey Supreme Court has reversed a decades-old law in a landmark decision that makes the child the focus of divorce relocation proceedings.

The law centers on divorced parents who want to leave New Jersey with the child against the other parent's wishes.

NJ.com reports the previous law focused on whether the move would "cause harm" to the child. After Tuesday's ruling, divorced parents now must prove the move is in the child's best interest.

The decision centers on a 2015 case where a father tried to keep his daughters from moving to Utah with his ex-wife. The attorney for the father says the ruling will make a large impact in future proceedings.

The attorney for the children's mother has not responded to requests for comment.



The same court that paved the way for same-sex marriage in the United States ruled Tuesday that an unmarried gay woman whose former girlfriend gave birth to two children through artificial insemination has the same parental rights as their biological mother.

The Supreme Judicial Court issued its decision Tuesday in a complicated case about the parental rights of a once-partnered, but unmarried, gay couple.

Julie Gallagher gave birth to the children, and her former partner, Karen Partanen, has helped raise them. They are now 4 and 8.

After the couple split in 2013, Partanen wanted to be declared a full legal parent.

A family court judge dismissed Partanen's request, finding that she didn't meet the requirements under state law because she and Gallagher were not married when the children were born, and Partanen is not a biological parent.

In overturning that ruling, the SJC found that a gay person may establish themselves as a child's presumptive parent under state law, even without a biological relationship with the child.

"The plain language of the provisions, then, may be construed to apply to children born to same-sex couples, even though at least one member of the couple may well lack biological ties to the children," Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court in the unanimous decision.

The SJC made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage through a landmark decision in 2003. Partanen was represented by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the same Boston-based legal group that brought the gay marriage case.


The U.S. Department of Justice released a report critical of the St. Louis County Family Court on Friday, finding that black youths are treated more harshly than whites, and juveniles are often deprived of constitutional rights. Though unrelated to the department's investigation in Ferguson, the new report again raises concern about racial discrimination and profiling in the St. Louis region.

The investigation from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division was initiated in 2013 amid complaints that black youths were treated unfairly in the family court, which handles about 6,000 youth cases each year. Treatment of African-Americans in the region drew increased scrutiny last year after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, by a white police officer in Ferguson. The 60-page report arrived just over a week before the anniversary of Brown's death, Aug. 9.

"In short, black children are subjected to harsher treatment because of their race," Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote in a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Family Court Administrative Judge Thea Sherry. She called the findings "serious and compelling."

Nixon called the report "deeply concerning." Though in St. Louis County, the court is supervised by the Missouri Supreme Court. "All Missourians have a right to a fair and equitable justice system, and our young people are no exception," Nixon said in a statement.

Stenger said he will urge the court "to work with the state of Missouri to fix the glaring problems identified by the Department of Justice."

The report said the Justice Department will seek to resolve complaints through negotiations, though litigation remains possible. Gupta said at a news conference that an initial meeting with family court officials was "cordial and cooperative."

The department is taking a similar tack as after a report released in March alleging racial bias and profiling by police and the municipal court in Ferguson. That report was begun following Brown's death, and negotiations between the DOJ and Ferguson officials are still going on.



Gov. Phil Bryant remains opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, but he’s stopping his court fight against it.

In a letter Wednesday, Bryant’s lawyer asks the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to return a Mississippi gay marriage lawsuit to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson. That would allow Reeves to enter a final ruling aligned with the Supreme Court decision.

Reeves overturned Mississippi’s gay marriage ban last year, but put his ruling on hold. The appeals court also put a hold on Reeves’ ruling.

Those procedural blocks need to be lifted, but most Mississippi counties are already issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Lawyers for plaintiffs want judges to act before July 4, to “celebrate the promise of liberty and freedom for all.”



A lawyer for Kim Kardashian's estranged husband wants to end his involvement in the former couple's divorce proceedings.

Marshall Waller says irreconcilable differences have arisen between him and Kris Humphries, and he should be allowed to leave the case.

He filed paperwork Thursday, one day before he and Kardashian's attorney are expected to appear in court for a scheduling hearing.

Kardashian is asking a judge to schedule a trial as soon as possible, while Waller has been advocating for more time to prepare.

If Waller is allowed to leave, it could delay a judge's decision on a trial date.



The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a judge's order unsealing documents in a bitter divorce case involving the head of stock-car racing.

Lawyers for NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France have fought for years to keep confidential the details of his 2008 divorce from Megan France, a Charlotte woman he has married and divorced twice.

The appeals court ruled in 2011 that the public's right to public court proceedings outweighed France's interest in maintaining secrecy. Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Jena Culler then reversed the earlier order of another judge, unsealing the divorce records.

Brian France then appealed again, effectively keeping the documents sealed until the appeals court ruled. France's lawyer, John Stephenson Jr., had argued at a court hearing in September that allowing one judge to overturn the order of another judge of equal rank would lead to "judicial anarchy."

The three-judge appeals panel ruled Monday that Culler's decision to unseal the divorce records was valid. Because the decision was unanimous, Brian France does not have the right of automatic appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court.


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