Texas Judge Uses ‘Morality Clause’ to Split Up Couple


Here’s another appalling case of a judge using a divorce or custody agreement to punish someone just for being gay. A Texas judge is ordering a mother’s lesbian partner to move out of the home they share because of a morality clause that he inserted into the woman’s divorce decree.

Page Price and Carolyn Compton have been together for almost three years, but a Collin County judge is forcing them apart.

Judge John Roach Jr., a Republican who presides over the 296th District Court, enforced the “morality clause” in Compton’s divorce papers on Tuesday, May 7. Under the clause, someone who has a “dating or intimate relationship” with the person or is not related “by blood or marriage” is not allowed after 9 p.m. when the children are present. Price was given 30 days to move out of the home because the children live with the couple.

Price posted about the judge’s ruling on Facebook last week, writing that the judge placed the clause in the divorce papers because he didn’t like Compton’s “lifestyle.”

“Our children are all happy and well adjusted. By his enforcement, being that we cannot marry in this state, I have been ordered to move out of my home,” Price wrote…

Ken Upton Jr., senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, said he is familiar with the case. He said morality clauses are rarely enforced and were historically used to prevent unmarried people from cohabitating with children present. Courts often include the clauses without people knowing, especially in conservative areas like Collin County, he said.

Gay couples are unfairly targeted under the clause because they can’t legally marry in Texas, Upton said.

So, an ex who is upset that his marriage ended because his wife was gay could use it against her later.

“What the clause has become is an extra burden on gay people because they’re no more likely to violate it than straight people,” he said. “It’s a problem that continues with homophobia.”

The couple is going to appeal. Let’s hope this is overturned.

Comments

  1. says

    OMG I think that’s the guy who finalised my divorce!!
    Should’a kicked him in the whatsits when I had the chance :-)
    And it’s a good job I didn’t tell him I’m atheist.

  2. Abby Normal says

    blockquote>morality clauses are rarely enforced

    Ah, the old unequal enforecement tactic. Is there any more insidious tool in the bigot’s toolbox? Fucking activist judges.

  3. beezlebubby says

    Janice, don’t make the mistake of painting an entire state with the crazy brush. Austin and Houston, in particular, are not centers of batshit crazy.

  4. anubisprime says

    Evil bigots by the gross down in Texas apparently!

    But a republican judge scrapping barrel bottoms for some arcane bit of jeebus inspired drooling in the statute book in order to enforce his own pompous and irrational hatreds…this is a surprise how?

  5. JasonTD says

    beezlebubby @6

    I can’t post a link from my work computer because of the filters, but search for ‘florida kaitlyn hunt’ for another case of the stupid.

  6. fireweaver says

    @janiceintoronto: Yes, Texas is massively fucked up. It also seems to get worse each year. The state board of education thinks cretinism is groovy, lying about American history (T. Jefferson in particular, founding fathers in general) is OK, cutting funds for education across the board, the fucking Governor (Pastor) Perry praying for rain (twice) and getting droughts and wildfires for his efforts[1] and other such batshit crazy stuff.
    .
    .
    [1]True story: The governor did his prayer thing about a month before the Texas Freethought Convention and of course if didn’t work. On the last day of the convention (2011-10-09), it rained like a cow pissing on a flat rock. So funny & so ironic.

  7. Ben P says

    This story is missing vital details, but I think you can piece them together with the context. But doing this you should become keenly aware that regardless of how unfair the judge’s ruling is, you’re only hearing one half of this story.

    The husband and wife were divorced some time ago, at least three years because the story says that’s how long the mother has been living with her partner.

    That divorce decree from years ago, included the proviso that the person having custody of the children shall not have someone cohabiting with them outside of blood or marriage. It appears to be the case that neither party objected to this when it was in the divorce decree initially.

    Now, 3+ years later, the Husband has filed a custody action. You clearly get the wife’s half of the story because the news recounts that the husband was once charged with stalking Compton and that he “rarely sees the children.” The mom also tells the news that the husband hired a private investigator.

    When the custody action went to court, the Court ruled based on the morality clause, saying that the other person has to move out of the house or she’ll lose custody. The mother says this happened because the judge “disapproves of her lifestyle” but no documents support this. The judge’s order is very likely couched in terms of following the letter of the divorce decree.

    So when she appeals there will be an issue. Did the parties agree to the divorce decree? Unless the clause in the divorce decree is something patently unconstitutional to enforce (I wish this were the case but it’s probably not in the child custody context), there will be some legal issues here.

  8. eamick says

    What a completely fucked up place Texas must be.

    Molly Ivins famously described it as Mississippi with good roads.

  9. chisaihana5219 says

    I cordially invite both Price and Compton to move to Minnesota. As of August 1st they can apply for a license and get married. Our metro areas are gay friendly, we have good jobs available, great health care and lakes to play in.

  10. lofgren says

    This is why the marriage part in gay marriage is important.

    QFT and it still bugs me that even San Francisco liberals with close gay friends in my circle still do not get this. Civil unions are just a Trojan horse for tiered relationship validity, ripe for abuse in civil cases like this one even if all state and federal matters were treated equally.

  11. The Other Lance says

    @chisaihana5219, How much you bet me that divorce decree includes clauses prohibiting moving the kids out of state without the non-custodial parent’s permission….

  12. Ben P says

    I cordially invite both Price and Compton to move to Minnesota. As of August 1st they can apply for a license and get married. Our metro areas are gay friendly, we have good jobs available, great health care and lakes to play in.

    Here’s the issue with that.

    If you’re divorced from your spouse, and your spouse gets vistation. Often you cannot simply move across the country without sparking a custody dispute, because many states explicitly prohibit moving a child out of state without the permission of the other parent or the court.

    The father’s clearly already trying to get custody in this case, so I’d give even odds on his not being cool with the mother taking the children to New York or Minnesota or California or wherever.

  13. eric says

    IANAL, but…

    Go to California (or wherever – heck, Amsterdam). Get married. Fly back to Texas. Now, Texas has a defense of marriage act saying the state does not legally recognize such unions. But I think the mother would be in a much stronger legal position than she is now. It certainly can’t hurt. She’d be showing good faith (she did what she could), and whether Tx does or not, federal laws would recognize her as married.

    Now, if she doesn’t want to do that because she doesn’t want to marry her current partner – well, I hate to say it, but preventing such cohabitation (straight or gay) falls clearly in line with the intent of the morality clause.

    Putting all that aside, I’m guessing from a strategic perspective her best bet is to claim ignorance and ask the judge to not change the child custody agreement until the two parties have a chance to work out a solution. If the judge says no, she might then have a more reasonable case for selective enforcement – as in, ‘everyone else is given a warning when they first breach a custody agreement, why wasn’t I?’

  14. Nentuaby says

    Uh, wow. Let’s leave aside the bigoted unequal enforcement, how are clauses like that even valid in the first place? Seems like that’s GOT to go into the same constitutional penumbra cited in Lawrence v. Texas.

  15. Nentuaby says

    Eric, one point of clarification– Federal law would NOT recognize her as married in that case, on account of the Defense of Marriage Act. That may change soon when the Supreme Court rules on it, but it stands for now.

  16. slc1 says

    Re Ben P @ #16

    If the couple moves to Minnesota, would a judge in Texas awarding custody to the father based on the two women being unrelated, be enforceable in Minnesota if the lesbian couple got legally married there? From the point of view in Minnesota, the two would be related.

  17. Ben P says

    Uh, wow. Let’s leave aside the bigoted unequal enforcement, how are clauses like that even valid in the first place? Seems like that’s GOT to go into the same constitutional penumbra cited in Lawrence v. Texas.

    The answer to this is long and complicated, but the short version is that there are a lot of things that can get considered in child custody cases under the argument that they affect “the best interests of the child” that wouldn’t otherwise be permissibly before a court.

    Re Ben P @ #16

    If the couple moves to Minnesota, would a judge in Texas awarding custody to the father based on the two women being unrelated, be enforceable in Minnesota if the lesbian couple got legally married there? From the point of view in Minnesota, the two would be related.

    Also a complicated answer, but again, short version. As long as the kid has lived in Texas for the past six months, Texas courts are the ones with jurisdiction to make custody determinations under UCCJEA. If the mom just picks up and takes her kids to Minnesota without any approval, she can get in serious trouble, and Minnesota courts couldn’t necessarily override texas courts.

    If I was the mom’s lawyer I think I have two options.

    1. Stay in texas, appeal the judge’s ruling on as many grounds as I can think of, including consitutional grounds. Not necessarily the best chance of success, but you make a scene certainly.

    2. Bank on DOMA getting overturned, elope with your spouse to a gay marriage state of your choice, get married, return to Texas and demand that the Texas court recognize the marriage for child custody purposes. This goes down the drain if DOMA is upheld.

  18. lofgren says

    Seems like that’s GOT to go into the same constitutional penumbra cited in Lawrence v. Texas.

    Did that case cover civil agreements in addition to criminal? Does cohabitation count as “consensual sexual conduct?” As near as I can tell, the answers are no and no.

  19. busterggi says

    Seriously, Texas allows an ex-husband to keep his former spouse to a 9:00 PM curfew?

    She should have just shot him, they’d have supported her for that.

  20. Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu says

    [1]True story: The governor did his prayer thing about a month before the Texas Freethought Convention and of course if didn’t work. On the last day of the convention (2011-10-09), it rained like a cow pissing on a flat rock. So funny & so ironic.

    I remember that night! It was so epic. In Dallas, Tim Minchin was performing, and the rain started about the time his performance did. Everyone had a grand laugh over it as we were leaving.

  21. slc1 says

    Re Ben P @ #21

    So if the woman leaves Texas and it takes the husband more then six months to find out where she is, then the court in Minnesota can take jurisdiction.

  22. ArtK says

    @slc1

    Well… there’s the crime of “custodial interference,” not to mention “kidnapping.” So she’d better hope that wherever she ends up, they won’t extradite to Texas. Running away with the child is a really, really bad idea.

  23. slc1 says

    Re ArtK @ #26

    She already has custody. The issue is what the rights of the father are. By the way, even if the judge in Texas issued a bench warrant, it’s not at all clear that the Governor of Minnesota, who is a Democrat who just signed a same sex marriage law would agree to extradition under these circumstances.

  24. Infophile says

    @23 busterggi:

    Seriously, Texas allows an ex-husband to keep his former spouse to a 9:00 PM curfew?

    She should have just shot him, they’d have supported her for that.

    Sadly, no. While the letter of the law may indicate otherwise, courts always end up upholding existing hierarchies. That is to say, a man can shoot a woman in self-defense (or the merest whiff of danger), but a woman can’t shoot a warning shot at the ceiling in the presence of a man. A white man can shoot a black man because he fears the black man is a thug and will pull out a gun and shoot him, but a black man can’t shoot a white man who’s actively trying to kill him. A man can try to stab a trans woman, but that same woman can’t defend herself in a way that might cause the man himself to get stabbed.

    Self-defense laws, however they’re written, always benefit the privilege more than the underprivileged. The system works to uphold itself, not to be eminently just.

  25. Nomad says

    Why is a judge dictating the terms under which the couple may get divorced? I am willing to entertain the notion of “if she entered into it willingly”, but… surely the terms of the divorce should have been THEIR doing. One party introduces a term, the other either agrees to it or does not. Why is the judge inserting his own terms into something that he’s supposed to be ruling on?

    It is presumably not Texas law that everyone has to pretend that they live in Mayberry, and that having a gentleman caller in past 9pm in the presence of children is an unacceptable scandal. If it were law I could understand the judge binding them to it, but it seems like he introduced his own archaic morality into other people’s business.

  26. Nomad says

    Also, I just realized that someone who is dating a close relative escapes this clause. That’s just bizarre. Of course the intention is not to allow people to carry on sexual relationships with their family members in a house with children, but can we just unpack that for an effing moment? You’re allowed, apparently, to live with family and perhaps to have them help raise your children. But what if you have a platonic relationship with a good friend who is willing to help out? Since you don’t share genetics with them that’s forbidden?

    I see nothing defensible in this clause. I mean looking at it from the real world. From the legal bullshit world I have no idea. Apparently it’s okay for a judge to dictate how late a woman may have a date over. And I’m going back on saying I can potentially agree with the argument that she supposedly agreed to it. I can imagine her being under pressure to get the divorce and fearing that objecting to that clause might cause her to be painted as a slut and to risk losing her children.

  27. Ben P says

    Why is a judge dictating the terms under which the couple may get divorced?

    THey probably never objected when it was in the divorce years ago, this is a separate custody fight now.

  28. eric says

    SLC @25 and @27 – I think you’re daydreaming. IMO its unlikely that the governor or some liberal MN judge would not send the case back to TX. The state systems want to continue good working relationships between circuits and districts; they are not in conflict and don’t want to be.

    You seem to think there is some group of MN judges or politicians just waiting for the clock to tick down so that they can finally get that poor woman out of the hands of the TX judicial system. I think this is highly unlikely. More likely, even the liberal judges and politician are going to value interstate reciprocity and supporting the standard judicial process over their preferred outcome in this single case. They’ll play ball because its in their strategic interests to do so, regardless of whether this outcome aligns with what they wish would happen.

    Ben P. @32:

    THey probably never objected when it was in the divorce years ago, this is a separate custody fight now.

    My guess is that they weren’t aware/only peripherally aware the clause even existed, and thought nothing of it until the husband decided to fight the current custody arrangement (whether he’s right or not, the fact that he hired a private investagor says to me that he was the one unhappy with the current arrangement).

    That’s why, were I her, I’d ask for time to work out the problem outside of the court system. If straight divorcees sometimes accidentally break custody agreements, and the standard judicial response is to give such people a second chance to obey it (before altering custody), then it becomes a legal discrimination issue if you don’t treat gay divorcees the same way.

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