Boddie v. Connecticut Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Appellants brought suit challenging the constitutionality of a statute requiring a fee to procure a divorce.

Facts of the case

Gladys Boddie was a married resident of Connecticut receiving welfare benefits. She filed for a divorce in New Haven County Superior Court. However, Boddie was not given a hearing because she had not paid the filing fee under Section 52-259 of the Connecticut General Statutes. Given her welfare status, she was unable to pay the fee. Her requests for fee waivers were also denied. Boddie and others who were denied divorces under Section 52-259 challenged the fee requirement in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. They alleged that the fee requirement violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court upheld the requirement. Boddie appealed to the Supreme Court.

Question

Is the denial of appellants’ right to a court proceeding in which they may obtain a divorce a denial of appellants’ due process rights under the United States Constitution?

Answer

Due process prohibits a State from denying, solely because of inability to pay, access to its courts to individuals who seek judicial dissolution of their marriages.
Due process typically involves rights of defendants, rather than those seeking access to the judicial process in the first instance. However, appellants are akin to that of defendants faced with exclusion from the only forum effectively empowered to settle their disputes. This is because adults may not divorce and separate themselves from the constraints of legal obligations that accompany marriage without state assistance.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court concluded that, given the basic position of the marriage relationship in this society’s hierarchy of values and the concomitant state monopolization of the means for legally dissolving this relationship, due process did prohibit a state from denying, solely because of inability to pay, access to its courts to individuals who sought judicial dissolution of their marriages. Thus, the Court held that a state could not, consistent with the obligations imposed on it by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, pre-empt the right to dissolve this legal relationship without affording all citizens access to the means it had prescribed for doing so.

  • Case Brief: 1971
  • Appellant: Gladys Boddie et al.
  • Appellee: Connecticut
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 401 US 371 (1971)
ReArgued: Nov 17, 1970
Decided: Mar 2, 1971
Argued: Dec 8, 1969