517 P.2d 1010 (Utah 1974), 13362, Stanton v. Stanton

Docket Nº:13362.
Citation:517 P.2d 1010, 30 Utah 2d 315
Opinion Judge:CROCKETT, Justice:
Party Name:Thelma B. STANTON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. James Lawrence STANTON, Jr., Defendant and Respondent.
Attorney:Bryce E. Roe, of Roe & Fowler, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellant. D. Gary Christian, of Kipp & Christian, Salt Lake City, for defendant and respondent.
Case Date:January 04, 1974
Court:Supreme Court of Utah

Page 1010

517 P.2d 1010 (Utah 1974)

30 Utah 2d 315

Thelma B. STANTON, Plaintiff and Appellant,


James Lawrence STANTON, Jr., Defendant and Respondent.

No. 13362.

Supreme Court of Utah.

January 4, 1974

Page 1011

[30 Utah 2d 317] Bryce E. Roe, of Roe & Fowler, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellant.

D. Gary Christian, of Kipp & Christian, Salt Lake City, for defendant and respondent.

CROCKETT, Justice:

The main issue presented on this appeal is plaintiff's attack on the constitutionality of Section 15--2--1, U.C.A.1953:

The period of minority extends in males to the age of 21 years and in females to that of 18 years; but all minors obtain their majority by marriage.

She contends that making the age of majority lower for women than for men is discriminatory, and denies equal protection of the laws. 1

After nine years of marriage, and the birth of two children, Sherri, born February 12, 1953, and Rick, born January 29, 1955, the parties were divorced and the decree required the defendant to pay $100 per month alimony and $100 per month for the support of each child. It is not disputed that he made these payments until February 1971, at which time he ceased paying for Sherri because she had reached the age of 18. In supplemental proceedings the plaintiff sought judgment for support payments for Sherri accruing since that time. From an adverse ruling, she appeals. The trial court ruled in accordance with the assumption since time immemorial in our law that our statutes dealing with the support of 'children' meant during the period of minority 2 and denied her petition. She appeals.

In considering plaintiff's charge that the statute just quoted is unconstitutional there are some general principles to be applied. Due to the important concept of separation of powers in our government, the courts should defer to the prerogative of the legislature to make the laws, and confine their own actions to interpreting

Page 1012

and applying them. This, of course, does not negate their responsibility of determining an act to be invalid if there is a clear and irreconcilable conflict between it and the Constitution, which is the supreme and controlling law. 3 But the courts are in a peculiar and somewhat delicate position because it falls to their lot to decide whether such conflict exists, and there is always [30 Utah 2d 318] the danger of trespassing upon the legislative domain. For this reason, and in order to maintain and safeguard the balance of power so essential to our system of government, we think it is correct and desirable to adhere to a policy of caution and restraint in respect for the action of the legislature; and not strike down a statute unless it appears so clear that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that there is such irreconcilable conflict. 4

It is also worthy of mention that this should be nore true as to acts of a state legislature, which acts as representatives of a sovereign state, and thus has inherently all of the powers of sovereignty, except as otherwise specified or limited by the state constitution, as contrasted to the federal government which has only those powers expressly granted, with all others reserved to the states or to the people. See the language of Amendments IX and X, U.S. Constitution.

There is no doubt that the questioned statute treats men and women differently. But there is likewise no question but it may treat people differently, based on classification, so long as there is a reasonable, basis for the classification, which is related to the purposes of the act, and it applies equally and uniformly to all persons within the class. 5 The plaintiff's argument is that, notwithstanding the foregoing, there is no sound reason for differentiation between the sexes as to the termination of the right of support. She asserts that whatever basis there may have been in former days for continuing the support of boys for the extra three years, because of the liberalization process in which women have become more involved in all affairs of the world outside the home, that basis no longer exists.

We are aware that both society in general and interfamily relationships have been undergoing change, as they undoubtedly should. We do not desire to be understood as opposing change simply because it is different; and we wholly agree that an essential aspect of the vitality of the law is that it should change to meet changing conditions. But neither of those propositions provide the answer to the problem here.

It may be that our ancestors for generations before us have been misguided in their belief that there are some fundamental differences between the sexes. But it is remarkable how some of those old notions do continue to prevail as to numerous interesting...

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