2 minute read

Stanton v. Stanton

Dissent And A Postscript

Justice Rehnquist offered dissent on the basis that the case before the Court was not a proper constitutional question. "This case," he wrote, "arises only because appellant and appellee made no provision in their property settlement agreement fixing the age at which appellee's obligation to support his son or daughter would terminate." The age-of-majority question had arisen because the Utah Supreme Court had simply turned to what seemed the most appropriate state law for establishing a cut-off point. Furthermore, Utah had in place, in its Uniform Civil Liability for Support Act, a provision defining "child" as "a son or daughter under the age of twenty-one years." For these and other reasons, including the Court's "established policy of avoiding unnecessary constitutional adjudication," Rehnquist moved to dismiss the appeal.

A postscript to the case came two years later, with Stanton v. Stanton (1977), or "Stanton II." At the conclusion of the first Stanton case, the Court noted the fact that it had not fully settled the issues of the appellee's actual monetary obligation to the appellant. This was especially so since James Stanton was asserting that if the ages of majority should be made equal, they should both be set at the age of 18. At the end of the 1975 case, the Court had remanded it to Utah's high court so that the latter could resolve the state-law issues involved. Instead, the Utah Supreme Court used the opportunity to allege the constitutionality of the age-of-majority statute once again.

The Utah Supreme Court then passed the case on to the District Court of Salt Lake County, which in the U.S. Supreme Court's words "correctly recognized . . . that the only issue before it was whether . . . both sexes should be deemed to attain majority either at age 18 or at age 21." That court chose twenty-one as the proper age, and ordered Thelma Stanton a judgment of more than $3,600, consisting of $2,700 past due support money, more than $500 in interest, and the remainder in costs. The Utah Supreme Court, however, reversed this on appeal, and further reinforced its allegiance to Section 15-2-1 with the statement that "regardless of what a judge may think about equality, his thinking cannot change the facts of life . . . " On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Utah court's judgment was vacated. By this point, even James Stanton was starting to back down, to judge from a footnote in the case: "Even the appellee recognizes the impropriety of the reversal of the costs factor . . . "

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Stanton v. Stanton - Significance, Challenging "old Notions", Dissent And A Postscript, Impact, Parental Responsibility, Further Readings