Orr v. Orr Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Appellant alleged that Alabama’s alimony statute was unconstitutional because it provided that husbands, but not wives, may be required to pay alimony upon divorce.

Facts of the case

William and Lillian Orr were divorced in February 1974. William Orr was ordered to pay monthly alimony of $1,240. Lillian Orr sued William Orr for lack of payments in July 1976. Alabama’s alimony statutes only required husbands to pay alimony, but not wives. William Orr challenged these statutes as unconstitutional. The Lee County Circuit Court ruled against him. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama affirmed this ruling. The Supreme Court of Alabama granted a writ of certiorari that was later dismissed.

Question

Is Alabama’s alimony statute, which provides that husbands, but not wives, may be required to pay alimony upon divorce constitutional?

Answer

Such statutes are unconstitutional in situations such as this where the State’s compensatory and ameliorative purposes are as well served by gender-neutral classification as one that gender classifies.
The statute is subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause because it provides that different treatment be accorded on the basis of sex. To withstand such scrutiny, the classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achieving those objectives.

Conclusion

In reviewing AL’s alimony statutes, the Court reversed the lower courts’ rulings. The Supreme Court held that in order to withstand scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, classifications by gender had to serve important governmental objectives and be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. The gender-based distinction in these statutes were gratuitous.

  • Case Brief: 1979
  • Appellant: Willam Orr
  • Appellee: Lillian Orr
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 440 US 268 (1979)
Argued: Nov 27, 1978
Decided: Mar 5, 1979