Important Family Law Cases in Recent History

Family law is an area of law that incorporates a wide range of cases. Most think of divorce, child support, spousal support, and parenting time. It may also include adoption or any other non-criminal dispute involving family relationships.

When dealing with matters of the family, emotions come into play and interesting entanglements happen. Family law firm sydney can easily take a turn for better or worse. Sometimes they impact future rulings.

Here are some famous family law cases that attorneys and judges use as binding precedent today.

Parental Rights Doctrine

Prior to the year 2000, the Supreme Court held that parents have a right to be in charge of their child’s education and upbringing. The assumption is that parents are the best caretakers for their own children unless found unfit. This became the belief as set forth in Meyer v. State of Nebraska (1923).

A split decision in the Supreme Court regarding Troxel v. Granville (2000) provides an opening for state judges to use their own rules in establishing parental rights. This case ended with six different Supreme Court opinions and no five-vote majority. Justice Scalia’s opinion is that there is no constitutional protection for parental rights. Justice Thomas believes parental rights have the same legal standard of protection as all other fundamental rights.

Grandparent Visitation

A determination regarding grandparent visitation rights is set forth in Troxel v. Granville (2000). The determination is that allowing a third party (grandparents) to petition for visitation with children over a parent’s objection infringes on the parent’s right to liberty regarding the custody, care, and control of their children. Therefore an order for grandparent visitation is unconstitutional.

Spouses of Service Members and Divorce

A determination in Howell v. Howell (2017) provides that state courts can not order a veteran to indemnify their ex-spouse for the loss of a veteran’s retirement pay. This can happen if a veteran elects to receive service-related disability benefits by waiving their retirement pay. Federal law takes precedence over state law regarding military retirement waivers as divisible marital property.

Pursuant to Mansell v. Mansell (1989), a military member may divest their ex-spouse from receiving any portion of their benefits. This is possible by waiving part of their longevity pay in exchange for VA disability.

The decision made in In the Marriage of Krempin (1999) makes up for the loss. This ruling states a court can order a servicemember on disability to pay spousal support. Howell overrules this holding.

The determination in McCarty v. McCarty (1981) is that military pay is not subject to division in a divorce because it is a federal entitlement. Therefore, there is no legal authority to divide it.

Following that decision legislature passed The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), 10 U.S.C. 1408. This act overrules McCarty.

The act provides for the division of disposable or retirement pay after June 25, 1981. The property is divisible as property of either the military member or the member and their spouse.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 provides that military pay of active service members is attributable to the rank and years of service at the time of divorce. This means the ex-spouse receives no benefit if the service member increases their rank and pension amount following the divorce. The ex-spouse’s only entitlement is to the portion earned during the duration of the marriage.

Conception and Marital Privacy

In Connecticut, a physician and Planned Parenthood director were operating in violation of the law. He was guilty of the crime of providing married couples with contraceptives.

Appealing the conviction, the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), made it to the Supreme Court. The ruling is that the Connecticut law is a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Even though the Constitution does not state a person’s right to privacy, it is implied. The Supreme Court’s finding is that the Connecticut law is a violation of the right to marital privacy. The use of contraceptives falls under the umbrella of marital privacy and the law was violating the Constitution.

Interracial Marriage

Loving v. Virginia (1967) pertains to the marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving who wed in 1958. They were given a choice of spending one year in jail or being exiled from the State of Virginia for 25 years.

Mildred, age 17, was black and Native American and Richard was 23 years old and white. In Virginia, interracial marriage was against the law. The couple was living their marriage living in exile until the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in 1964.

In today’s society, this case is still being used as a precedence for repealing COMA and Proposition 8. If you are dealing with the difficulties of interracial marriage or any other family court matter, you will want to contact for a consultation regarding your options. 

Proposition 8

Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013) deals with Proposition 8. This 2008 amendment to the California State Constitution establishes marriage as a union between one woman and one man.

In addition to California, 29 states use this definition in their constitution. Six states use the definition in state statutes. Two states only allow marriages between men and women.

Proposition 8 was upheld by the California State Supreme Court. It was found to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals before moving to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Proposition 8 is considered by many to be unconstitutional. This is because it allows people of the opposite sex to marry, but not two people of the same sex to marry. This is discrimination.

The refusal of the Supreme Court to hear the case due to lack of standing led to the Ninth Circuit’s upholding of the U.S. District Court’s decision to overturn Proposition 8 on February 7, 2012. Same-sex marriages became legal on June 28, 2013.


DOMA stands for the Defense of Marriage Act. This act establishes the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The act became law in 1996.

There have been several lawsuits regarding this act, including the United States v. Windsor (2013). The case involves two women living in New York who married in Ontario, Canada in 2007.

When one of the women died, the other sought to claim a surviving spouse tax exemption. The government denied her request. The reason was the Defense of Marriage Act excluded same-sex partners from claiming spousal rights.

The U.S. District Court and Court of Appeals both ruled this portion of the federal statute unconstitutional. The ruling required the United States to reimburse Windsor the taxes she paid on the estate.

Same-Sex Marriage

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) is the result of numerous same-sex couples filing lawsuits in Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. The lawsuits challenge bans on same-sex marriage. The allegations are that the bans violate the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause, plus claims under the Civil Rights Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion is that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage under the U.S. Constitution.

Family Law Cases

Many interesting family law cases deal with a wide range of topics from parenting time, property division, and the rights to privacy in marriage. The law still references and upholds the determinations made over the decades on many issues. At the same time, society is ever-changing and new cases and interpretations happen on a daily basis.

We invite you to check out our other postings where you will find a wide range of subjects to quench your thirst for knowledge.

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