In a post-divorce hearing held in early May, as reported by the Dallas News, a Collin County judge enforced the morality clause in the 2011 divorce papers that the wife and husband signed. He ruled that the wife could no longer live together with her lesbian partner. Specifically, the judge ordered that within 30 days the wife’s partner must move out of the home they share with the divorced couples’ two children, ages 10 and 13.
The lesbian couple criticized the judge’s enforcement of the morality clause as discriminating against same-sex couples. They are considering an appeal of the ruling.
What is a morality clause?
A morality clause prevents an unmarried parent in a divorce proceeding from having a romantic partner stay overnight in the home while the children are in that parent’s care. In Collin County, the clause is part of the standing orders that apply to every divorce case. Overnight is defined as running from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
While the standing orders only remain in effect until the divorce is concluded, the clause was added to the parties’ final divorce decree. It has no expiration date.
In a case where an unmarried parent is cohabiting with a partner of the opposite sex, the man and woman can get around the morality clause by marrying. Same-sex couples do not have that option, however, as Texas does not recognize gay marriage or domestic partnership.
Does the judge’s order discriminate against Gays?
The judge found that the morality clause does not target same-sex couples. The language of the clause is gender-neutral. “It’s a general provision for the benefit of the children,” the judge said. “It’s applied equally to everyone.”
The husband’s lawyer likewise argued that his client merely wants the clause enforced for the benefit of the children. The fact that gay couples cannot marry in Texas “is a legislative issue.”
A Dallas attorney, however, has pointed out that morality clauses are rarely enforced. For example, in the highly contentious, celebrity divorce of former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders from Pilar Sanders, overnight visits of Deion’s girlfriend, Tracey Edmonds, became an issue. The fact that the girlfriend stayed in the Prosper mansion overnight while the Sanders’ three children were present was repeatedly brought to the judge’s attention. Because the Sanders’ divorce was filed in Collin County, the standing orders containing the morality clause applied. But the judge, in that case, refused to enforce the clause.
Allegations of stalking
The husband’s motives for seeking enforcement of the morality clause are also in question. He rarely sees the parties’ two children. During the divorce proceeding, he was accused by the wife of making vindictive posts on Facebook, stalking, and multiple phone calls and texts each day. In December 2010, the wife sought a protective order.
Court records show that in 2011 the husband was charged with third-degree felony stalking. He later pled guilty to misdemeanor trespassing.
As this matter illustrates, motions to enforce a divorce decree can arise years after a divorce is granted and may raise very serious issues, some of the constitutional dimension. If you are ever faced with a post-divorce motion to enforce the terms of a decree, you should contact an experienced family law attorney who can provide you with strong and effective representation.