Citation. 401 U.S. 371, 91 S. Ct. 780, 28 L. Ed. 2d 113, 1971 U.S. 73
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Brief Fact Summary.
Appellants, Boddie et al., are indigents who are challenging the court costs of getting a divorce in Connecticut. They assert that the costs violate the rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Where state courts are the sole means for obtaining a divorce, the states can not impose a court fee that effectively prevents people without the means to pay the fee from getting a divorce when there is ample evidence that the divorce is warranted.
Appellants filed a claim for a divorce in the Connecticut state courts, and the filing was returned because the court fees were not paid. Appellants were on welfare, and the sixty-dollar fee was an amount that they could not pay. Appellants then filed this action in Federal court claiming that Connecticut’s statutes regarding court fees and service of process fees violate their rights as indigent people under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state argued that court costs are necessary to prevent frivolous lawsuits.
The issue is whether a state can require everyone in their state, including people without the financial means, to pay the required fees to obtain a divorce.
The United States Supreme Court held that since a state is the exclusive avenue to ending a divorce, they can not, under the Fourteenth Amendment, require people without the financial ability to pay to get a divorce. The court analogized the situation with that of a poor criminal defendant who can not avoid using the court system, and precedent has removed the financial barriers for those situations.
The dissent argues that issues of marriage and divorce are the exclusive domain of the states. The dissent also distinguishes divorces from poor defendants in criminal cases because courts have always placed a higher importance for protection in criminal cases versus civil cases.
Concurrence. The concurring judges also argue that the state fee requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause.
The court narrows it holding to only protect parties seeking divorce who lack the financial means to file, and they limit it to divorce filings only.