Orr v Orr 440 US 268 (1979) – Constitutional Validity of Alimony and Divorce Laws

Some elements of constitutional law have a bearing on family law and divorce in the United States. Although the area of family law is largely within the purview of the individual states within the United States, because there is no express power granted to the Federal government in relation to this point there are some cases which have emerged the cover very specific issues in relation to the laws that regulate marriage, families and the relationships between parents and children and spouses.  For this reason, family law within United States is notoriously complex as the state of residency can include the laws of a number of different States or in some cases no states or it can involve a conflict of laws between two states where the couple has lived in a variety of jurisdictions within their relationship.

Orr was a divorced male who challenge the alimony statutes of Alabama. He argued that because statutory scheme allowed element in orders and against males, it amounted to a constitutional sex discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause. The dissenters focus strictly on the standing question, pointing out that the applicant probably had nothing to gain from winning the case as his wife was in the spouse and your spouse or support. The possibility of Alabama would abolish alimony in order to render the statutes neutral with regard to gender was commonly said, merely fanciful.

The court majority address the standing question by insisting that any person who bears a gender-based financial burden must have standing to challenge it. Justice John Paul Stevens separate concurring opinion was devoted entirely to elaboration on this point. The majority applied the case of Craig against foreign of 1976 to invalidate a statutory scheme. The state of the three goals of law, to structure family life, with wife at home husband providing support, to cushion the cost of divorce to needy wives and to compensate me was economic discrimination attendant upon the traditional marital rule. The court declared the first goal invalid in this era but said that the second to a valid and important. The law, however, failed the second half of the creek test as it was not substantially related to these goals. There was no need to blanket gender discrimination since every alimony award came out of individualised hearings in which any needy spouse could be open. Thus, both articles can be satisfied by gender neutral law.


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