This week the Missouri Supreme Court decided its first same sex marriage case, M.S. v. D.S.
Rather than reach the merits of whether statutory and state constitutional bans on same sex marriage violate the federal constitution, a unanimous Court reversed on narrow procedural grounds and sent it back to the trial court for further proceedings.
M.S. involves a couple lawfully married in Iowa and residing in Missouri who filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in St. Louis County. The circuit court dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The circuit reasoned that because Missouri does not recognize same sex marriage, it does not recognize same sex divorce, and the court did not have the ability to hear the case.
However, since deciding J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla in 2009 (full disclosure – the Marks Law Firm represented the respondent in that case), the Court has limited the ability of a circuit court to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that a circuit court has constitutional authority to hear virtually any case; however, a court may be constrained by statutory authority in its ability to grant relief. The M.S. holding ruled the circuit court confused these principles and had the constitutional authority to consider the merits of the dissolution of marriage, including whether the court had the statutory authority to grant any relief.
Rather than decide whether any circuit court would have that authority in Missouri, the Court sent the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings without expressing an opinion on the constitutionality of same sex marriage and divorce in Missouri.
The Court also has put on hold another case pending before it from the City of St. Louis that found the ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional, pending the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this June on that very issue.
So, for the moment at least, same sex divorce seems in a holding pattern of sorts in Missouri. However, once the U.S. Supreme Court rules in June, the Missouri Supreme Court will subsequently issue a ruling and provide clear guidance on the issues of same sex marriage and divorce in this state.
If you have questions on same sex marriage and divorce, contact us – we can help.