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In re the Marriage of ROBERT LYNN and NORMA JANET WALTON. ROBERT LYNN WALTON, Respondent, v. NORMA JANET WALTON, Appellant
Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two

The parties were married on or about August 7, 1948 and separated approximately 21 years later on August 7, 1969. On October 6, 1970, Husband filed a petition for dissolution of marriage on the ground of irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage (Civ. Code, § 4506, subd. (1)). On October 12, 1970, Wife filed her response seeking legal separation on the same ground, irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage (Civ. Code, § 4506, subd. (1)). Prior to trial Wife moved the court to dismiss Husband’s petition on grounds that certain provisions of the Family Law Act enacted in 1969 (Stats. 1969, ch. 1608), particularly Civil Code, sections 4506, subdivision (1) and 4507, are violative of the California and federal Constitutions on several bases. The motion was denied, the matter proceeded to trial, and the court rendered an interlocutory judgment of dissolution of the marriage placing custody of the minor children of the parties with Wife, providing for spousal and child support and dividing the marital property.

ISSUES:

Whether granting Husband’s petition for dissolution of marriage on the ground of irreconcilable differences as specified in Civil Code, section 4506, subdivision (1) is violative of article I, section 10 of the United States Constitution and article I, section 16 of the California Constitution.
Whether granting Husband’s petition for dissolution of the marriage on the ground of irreconcilable differences is violative of the constitutional guarantees of due process of law.

DISCUSSION:

Marriage is much more than a civil contract; it is a relationship that may be created and terminated only with consent of the state and in which the state has a vital interest.  Even if marital obligations were treated as contractual obligations protected by the constitutional prohibitions, a statutory change in the grounds for divorce would not constitute an unconstitutional impairment thereof.  Marriage, as creating the most important relation in life, as having more to do with the morals and civilization of a people than any other institution, has always been subject to the control of the Legislature. That body prescribes the age at which parties may contract to marry, the procedure or form essential to constitute marriage, the duties and obligations it creates, its effects upon the property rights of both, present and prospective, and the acts which may constitute grounds for its dissolution. When persons enter into a contract or transaction creating a relationship infused with a substantial public interest, subject to plenary control by the state, such contract or transaction is deemed to incorporate and contemplate not only the existing law but the reserve power of the state to amend the law or enact additional laws for the public good and in pursuance of public policy, and such legislative amendments or enactments do not constitute an unconstitutional impairment of contractual obligations.

The granting of a husband’s petition for dissolution of marriage on the ground of irreconcilable differences as prescribed in the Family Law Act, Civ. Code, § 4506, subd. (1) did not constitute a retroactive application of law depriving the wife of a vested right in violation of federal and California constitutional due process guarantees.  Where a husband sought dissolution of marriage on the ground of irreconcilable differences and the wife sought separate maintenance on the same ground, the wife was foreclosed, on appeal of the grant of the husband’s petition, from contending that she was by statute wrongly prevented from presenting evidence that irreconcilable differences did not exist.  Allowing dissolution of marriage on the ground of irreconcilable differences, is not unconstitutionally vague nor uncertain.  The due process clauses of the California and federal Constitutions require civil as well as criminal statutes to be sufficiently clear to provide a standard for uniform application.  The contention that the Family Law Act is unjust and unfair in that it permits a spouse guilty of morally reprehensible conduct to take advantage of that conduct in terminating the marriage against the wishes of an entirely unoffending spouse presents no issue cognizable in the courts.

JUDGMENT:
The judgment of the trial court granting respondent husband’s petition for dissolution of marriage was affirmed because the impact of the Family Law Act on appellant wife was not unfair or unjust as marital rights and obligations were not contractual rights and obligations within the meaning of the California or United States Constitutions.

Disclaimer:

These summaries are provided by the SRIS Law Group.  They represent the firm’s unofficial views of the Justices’ opinions.  The original opinions should be consulted for their authoritative content

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