Zablocki v. Redhail (1978)

Because the right to marry is of fundamental importance, it is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendmen for a state law to bar marriage by noncustodial parents unless a court order finds that the child support is not in arrears and that the child(ren) will not become dependent on the State.

Citation: 434 U.S. 374 (1978)
Date decided: Jan 18, 1978
Longer case name: Zablocki, Milwaukee County Clerk v. Redhail
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Wisconsin
Topic(s):Family law and Right to marry
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Robert H. Blondis argued the cause and filed briefs for appellee. (Milwaukee Legal Services represented Red Hail.)
Others involved:Terry W. Rose filed a brief for the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Inc., as amicus curiae urging affirmance.
More info:

Case Importance

Zablocki is now considered to be part of a constitutional fundamental right to marry, along with cases like Loving v. Virginia, Turner v. Safley, and Obergefell v. Hodges. Tonya L. Brito, R. Kirk Anderson, and Monica Wedgewood, “Chronicle of a Debt Foretold: Zablocki v. Red Hail”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “Zablocki v. Red Hail is a canonical case in family law jurisprudence. One of the few Supreme Court decisions addressing the fundamental right to marry, it is typically located in family law textbooks immediately after Loving v. Virginia…. [But in 2016] Roger Red Hail still cannot get married. At 60, he lives with his fiancée Colleen in a suburban community outside Milwaukee…. Roger and Colleen have been together for 19 years and would like to get married. But, just as it did 40 years ago, child support debt stands in the way.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



Wisconsin statute providing that any resident of that State “having minor issue not in his custody and which he is under obligation to support by any court order or judgment” may not marry without a court approval order, which cannot be granted absent a showing that the support obligation has been met and that children covered by the support order “are not then and are not likely thereafter to become public charges,” held to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 383-391.

(a) Since the right to marry is of fundamental importance, e. g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 , and the statutory classification involved here significantly interferes with the exercise of that right, “critical examination” of the state interests advanced in support of the classification is required. Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 312 , 314. Pp. 383-387.

(b) The state interests assertedly served by the challenged statute unnecessarily impinge on the right to marry. If the statute is designed to furnish an opportunity to counsel persons with prior child-support obligations before further such obligations are incurred, it neither expressly requires counselling nor provides for automatic approval after counseling is completed. The statute cannot be justified as encouraging an applicant to support his children. By the proceeding the State, which already possesses numerous other means for exacting compliance with support obligations, merely prevents the applicant from getting married, without ensuring support of the applicant’s prior children. Though it is suggested that the statute protects the ability of marriage applicants to meet prior support obligations before new ones are incurred, the statute is both underinclusive (as it does not limit new financial commitments other than those arising out of the contemplated marriage) and overinclusive (since the new spouse may better the applicant’s financial situation). Pp. 388-390.

418 F. Supp. 1061, affirmed.

From the opinion

Last modified: 2022-12-27 01:00
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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