Kirchberg v. Feenstra

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  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Workplace Equality and Economic Empowerment
  • Joined Amicus Brief
1981

Determined the constitutionality of state “head and master” laws, which deem the husband “master” of all marital property and allows him to control marital property without his wife’s consent.

This case challenges the Louisiana "head and master" law, which deems the husband "master" of all marital property and allows him to control marital property without his wife’s consent. The case demonstrates the harsh consequences of such laws, remnants of ancient legal systems.

The Louisiana law had allowed Ms. Feenstra’s husband to mortgage their marital home to a lawyer as security for the husband’s legal bills, without informing her or getting her consent. Ms. Feenstra first learned of the mortgage when the lawyer threatened to foreclose on her home. Worse still, the unpaid bills that led to the threatened foreclosure were for the lawyer’s services representing Mr. Feenstra on criminal charges of molesting the Feenstras’ daughter—charges Ms. Feenstra had dropped when her husband agreed to leave the marriage and the state. In another Equal Protection Clause ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court voids the law.