The Upcoming W.N.B.A. Battle: Setting Precedent for Same-Sex Couples with Children
W.N.B.A. players Brittney Griner, last season’s defensive player of the year, and Glory Johnson, two-time All-Star, had a controversial relationship leading up to their marriage on May 8, 2015. Even more provocative are the actions taken by Ms. Griner a month after the couple was married and a day after Glory Johnson announced her pregnancy.
On April 22, 2015, the couple was arrested following a domestic disturbance at their home. As a result of the fight, Ms. Griner received a bite wound on her finger and scrapes on her wrist, and Ms. Johnson received a cut above her lip and a concussion. Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, while Ms. Johnson pleaded not guilty and her case was dismissed.
At a time of increased scrutiny of domestic violence and athletes, the league suspended both players for seven out of their thirty-four game season— the longest in league history. According to Laurel J. Richie, president of the W.N.B.A., “The W.N.B.A. takes all acts of violence extremely seriously. It is our strong belief that violence has absolutely no place in society, in sports or in this league. As president, it is my reasonability to protect the league and uphold its values. Our athletes represent the W.N.B.A., and they all must abide by the league’s standards of conduct. In this case, Brittney and Glory failed to do so, and that is unacceptable.”
Despite these troubles, the couple proceeded to marry. However, only 28 days later, Ms. Griner filed for an annulment. Ms. Griner made the following statement, “I can confirm that today [June 5th] I filed for an annulment. In the week prior to the wedding, I attempted to postpone the wedding several times until I completed counseling, but I still went through with it. I now realize that was a mistake.” In response, Ms. Johnson’s agent, D.J. Fisher, stated that Ms. Johnson “loves Brittney and made a huge sacrifice to carry a child, put her career on hold, invest in their relationship and their future.”
It is anticipated that the couple will be heading for a battle as they have vastly conflicting opinions of Ms. Johnson’s impending motherhood. Ms. Griner claims that she does not even know when Ms. Johnson became pregnant and she has no biological connection to the baby. Ms. Johnson claims that Ms. Griner was a “willing participant, consenting and signing all the necessary documents” for the in vitro fertilization.
The law has been changing in regards to same-sex couples, most recently with the United States Supreme Court finding that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Courts have been trying to navigate the waters in terms of the rights and privileges of same-sex couples. In recent years, there have also been developments relating to their child support obligations.
Courts have asserted a number of bases for “an obligation on the part of the parent’s former same-sex partner to provide financial support for the child,” including a finding of an obligation based at least in part on a contract or promise. In Karin T. v. Michael T., the parties had two children by means of artificial insemination. Before this procedure, “the partner executed an agreement stating[:] ‘a. That such child or children so produced are his own legitimate child or children and are the heirs of his body, and b. That he hereby completely waives forever any right which he might have to disclaim such child or children as his own.’” Additionally, the parties had lived together in the same household for six years and both contributed to the support of the family and the children. The court found under these circumstances and the provisions of the agreement between the parties there was an enforceable contract. The court stressed that “the document that was signed by the partner, by which these children were brought into the world, gave rise to a situation that needed to provide these two children with remedies.” To hold otherwise, the court stated, would allow the partner to escape her responsibilities in supporting the children.
As the law continues to shift in regards to same-sex marriages, the very public Griner-Johnson separation will likely bring attention to child support obligations of same-sex partners. If Ms. Griner “fights paying child support, it could set a precedent in the state for same-sex couples.” As Arizona lawyer Claudia D. Work stated, “This is going to come down to whether the court will hold Ms. Griner to contractual promises.”
If you have any questions about same-sex marriage or any other issue, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information. Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
Source: Julie A. Nice, Symposium, The Descent of Responsible Procreation: A Genealogy of an Ideology, 45 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 781, 798 (2012).
Source: Child Support Obligations of Former Same-Sex Partners, 5 A.L.R.6th 303 (Originally published in 2005).