TX Court of Appeals: Attorney General Cannot Intervene in Same-Sex Marriage Case

Last Friday, the Third Court of Appeals, located in Austin, determined that Attorney General Greg Abbott could not legally intervene in a case involving two women who were legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage and later granted a divorce here in Texas.

Specifically, Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, who were legally married in Massachusetts in 2004, were granted a divorce by a district court judge in Travis County last February.

However, the day after the divorce was granted, Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a motion to intervene – asserting that the district court judge lacked the jurisdiction to legally dissolve the same-sex marriage at issue because the state of Texas had a constitutional ban on such marriages in place.

The district court judge subsequently denied Abbott’s motion, stating that it was not filed in a timely manner.

Abbott then filed an appeal with the Third Court of Appeals. However, his appeal was denied on the grounds that the state had let too much time pass before seeking to intervene and, because of this, they lacked the necessary standing to pursue an appeal.

“While the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure do not impose a deadline for intervention, the general rule is that a party may not intervene after final judgment unless the judgment is set aside,” wrote Justice Diane M. Henson in a decision signed by all three judges.

The court highlighted the fact that Abbott (i.e. the state) did not file the petition to intervene until the day after the district court granted the divorce.

It is important to distinguish this case from In the Matter of the Marriage of J.B. and H.B., decided by the Fifth Court of Appeals last August. That decision determined that 1) the district courts of Texas do not have subject matter jurisdiction over same-sex marriage/dissolution of marriage cases and 2) Texas’ prohibitions against same-sex marriages/civil unions did not violate the Constitution. (Please see “A Brief Examination of In the Matter of the Marriage of J.B. and H.B” for more information.)

Here, the court merely made a procedural decision that in no way addressed any of the ongoing controversy regarding same-sex marriage in Texas.

“[The] ruling, like any other ruling on jurisdiction, is solely procedural,” said Dan Rodriguez, a University of Texas law professor. “By virtue of that fact, it does not purport to, nor cannot, resolve any of the substantive issues involving same-sex marriage.”

James Scheske, Angelique Naylor’s attorney, indicated that his client was pleased with the result and expressed satisfaction with the decision by the Third Court of Appeals.

“The most important thing for my client is that she remains divorced,” said Scheske. “The state had no business interfering in this divorce case. Ultimately, this opinion is more a civil procedure case than it is a civil rights case.”

To learn more about divorce or life after divorce, contact an experienced and skilled legal professional.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Stay tuned for more from our Ft. Worth family law blog …

Related Resources:

Abbott Loses Ruling on Gay Divorce (The Houston Chronicle)

Court: Texas Can’t Stop Gay Divorce That’s Granted (The Washington Post)