Monday, 26 July 2010

Death and Texas

This is a story of a woman who had a rough childhood. Born with a distressing congenital anomaly - a birth defect to be un-PC about it - when young she got into some trouble with the law, nothing serious, before she turned her life around and became a successful businesswoman. After a failed marriage that didn't last long, she met the love of her life, and married him.

One problem - he was of a different race, and her mother-in-law didn't approve. The husband had also had a failed marriage, and had two children to support. A bit of a problem, because he wanted to do an EMT and Firefighting course.

She was able to pay for this, and also pay the child maintenance too. And was the beloved step-mom of his children. Furthermore, she ran her own magazine, and even was a candidate for mayor, scoring a respectable showing, though not quite enough to win.

But trouble soon followed, in the shape of a nasty custody case. You see, the pair had hired the wrong lawyer to handle some of their business affairs. One who, despite the obvious conflict of interest, hired himself out to the ex-wife soon after, bringing with him the knowledge he was supposed to keep confidential. This put a strain on the marriage.

Worse was to come. Far worse. For on one fateful day, the husband, who was by now a fully qualified albeit volunteer firefighter, was caught in a large fire, and perished.

Not 24 hours had passed after the recovery of his body, when the ex-wife and mother-in-law, acting in cahoots, attempted to grab not just all the insurance payouts for the deceased, not just his personal estate, but all assets held by either partner. House, bank accounts, all joint property.

Their lawyer spread the story to the media that the widow, instead of subsidising her husband's education, was some kind of gold-digger, out to bilk the children from theor fair share - their legally mandated share under Texas law - of the benefits. And that the marriage was contracted as the result of fraud.

The ex-wife even opened a bank account "for the sake of the children" - but in her name only, to handle the $200,000 that this mendacity brought in from those who bought her carefully-orchestrated story, and donated. The press was kept fully informed of the widow's criminal records, the petty theft and DUI convictions when young, in a well-organised smear campaign, all less than a week after the husband's death. A series of injunctions froze the widows personal assets so she wouldn't be able to fight in court, while the two who eyed the $600,000 death benefits - plus the joint property - had a $200,000 war chest. Not a word was said in their claims about the children - because Texas Law already provided that half should go to the kids, regardless.

Now you might think that such blatant injustice would never be allowed to go to court. And in the normal course of events, you'd be right. But the rules are different for those born intersexed, and temporarily assigned the wrong gender at birth.

From a press release by TG center :
Houston, Texas – July 23, 2010 – Jeers and public threats greeted Mrs. Nikki Araguz outside the Warton County Courthouse today. The Widow of Wharton County firefighter Captain Thomas Araguz, who was killed in the line of duty, was in court for the first hearing in a suit brought by Araguz’s mother, Simona Rodriguez Longoria. The suit claims that Longoria should inherit Capt. Araguz’s widow’s benefits and all marital assets.

Longoria claims that since Mrs. Araguz was legally a male before transitioning to female, and legally changed her gender prior to her subsequent marriage to Capt. Araguz that Longoria, not Mrs. Araguz, should receive all benefits and joint property. This includes any income earned by Mrs. Araguz during the marriage. Mrs. Araguz was the principle wage earner of the couple.

Capt. Araguz’s two children from a previous marriage will receive one half of Capt. Araguz’s $600,000 firemen’s fallen hero benefit regardless of the outcome of this case. They are also entitled to free tuition at Texas State Schools, as will be their children.

Longoria today expanded her claims to the property of Mrs. Araguz, asking the court to seize funds paid by a life insurance policy to which Mrs. Araguz was the named beneficiary. Judge Clapp granted her request, adding those funds to the widow’s benefits and all marital assets currently being held in escrow.

In a victory for Mrs. Araguz, the Judge also prevented Longoria from spending any of those funds or disposing of Capt. and Mrs. Araguz’s marital assets.

Longoria said in court today that her goal was to “freeze Nikki out.” All of Mrs. Araguz’s assets are currently frozen and unavailable to her.
Note that the payment from a separate life insurance policy, one held by Ms Araguz in her own name, rather than as the wife of the deceased, has been frozen too. She had already expended some of that on funeral expenses, but may have to find some funds from future earnings to put into escrow. On the other hand, the ex-wife's $200,000 war chest "for the children" is now unavailable to her, and must be put in escrow too, not for her benefit, but the children's.

More at the Houston Chronicle. A more neutral view - one not reliant wholly on allegations by one party's lawyers - from the AP.

Two things about Texas and Federal Law that aren't mentioned. Contrary to the ex-wife's story, she stands to inherit half of the $600,000 widow's benefit (though no other property) under Federal rather than state law, as the mother of the deceased's children, married to him or not, should the actual widow be excluded. The children get the rest, regardless of the outcome of the case.
Probate Code, Chapter II,
Sec. 38. PERSONS WHO TAKE UPON INTESTACY. (a) Intestate Leaving No Husband or Wife. Where any person, having title to any estate, real, personal or mixed, shall die intestate, leaving no husband or wife, it shall descend and pass in parcenary to his kindred, male and female, in the following course:

1. To his children and their descendants.

Section 45
(b) On the intestate death of one of the spouses to a marriage, if a child or other descendant of the deceased spouse survives the deceased spouse and the child or descendant is not a child or descendant of the surviving spouse, one-half of the community estate is retained by the surviving spouse and the other one-half passes to the children or descendants of the deceased spouse.
Another issues is that after the Littleton case, Texas statutes were amended to make it clear that a change of gender certificate, or even a change of name certificate, was sufficient evidence to contract a marriage.

Under Title 1, Subtitle A. Marriage, Chapter 2, Sub-chapter A: “(8) an original or certified copy of a court order relating to the applicant’s name change or sex change;”
However, this legislation was passed after the marriage was celebrated, just to complicate matters. In any event, Littleton vs Prange was rendered invalid as a precedent.

There are many details that appear in dispute, but which will no doubt come out in the fullness of time. One is that the widow had some form of genital reconstruction - after the marriage. Another is that she's done considerable work for Transgendered rights, public work. To say that her husband didn't know of her situation under those circumstances defies credulity, as everyone else did - apart from his family. It's not clear whether the widow's birth certificate was ever formally changed. What is clear though is that the claiming parties aren't pretending to act on principle: they despise her, but are really just out for the money, and acted within less than 36 hours after their "beloved" son's tragic death. They're not even pretending to mourn for someone they think brought disgrace on the family. Except they can't say that, or they'll be admitting that no deception was involved.

From :
Nikki Araguz's parents said she suffers from rare birth defect called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a person has all of the physical traits of female, but has no uterus. They acknowledge the birth certificate listed in the lawsuit is Nikki Araguz's and that she was born Justin Graham Purdue.
Probably more like PAIS-6 rather than complete AIS. Some minor genital irregularity, or no surgery would have been necessary. But as I said, the rules are different for Intersexed people.


Anonymous said...

...and that she was born Justin Graham Purdue

I've read one too many articles where the author privileges a trans person's birth name, feeding and perpetuating the trope that the names we were given at birth are somehow more authentic, more "real" than the names we choose for ourselves, and that it is permissible to feed cis curiosity by a total stranger dredging up a former name that has been cast aside. All too often they'll use the phrasing "...was born as '$_old_name'."

The more I think about it, the more I realise that sentence is utterly misleading and meaningless. Nobody is ever born as 'name'. Each and every one of us is born completely nameless. Yes, even when our parents may have chosen our names ahead of time, it's not until after we're born that they're given to us, and written down in the birth register (making them set in stone "forever after"). Even if they're not written down, they're still shared out with our relatives almost immediately, the answer to the second question invariably asked of new parents. Names have power, and our society gives them that power by fetishising the rituals surrounding naming.

Not one person in this entire world was born knowing their name. We do not spring fully-formed from our mother's loins shouting out our names. If this were true, we'd all be named "Waaaaaaah!".

Trans people need to start challenging the naming conventions. We need to challenge the trope that the names given to us at birth are our "real" names. The first thing we can do about it is to adopt the language I just used; to replace "birth name" by "name assigned at birth", just as we do with "sex assigned at birth". This acknowledges that the name was given to us without our consent, that it doesn't fit who we really are, and that it is no longer applicable to us in our changed circumstances.

Lux Mentis said...

Our governments are bureaucratically limited in mental scope. When you are assigned one name, much like one social insurance number, and given one birth certificate, then you are an entity the state knows.

They don't really want to deal with the 'hassle' of changing it, because eventually that identity-from-birth will be involved in your credit ratings, your criminal records, and all of your interactions with the state.

Aboriginal cultures often assign a birth name, but award a name more representative as the young adult matures into an adult. That is their adult name. But for us, that would mean paperwork, it would mean that searches would have to reference two names (or potentially more) and it would just generally be a bother for the state.

So they want to make such things as onerous as possible. They want to be able to surely and uniquely identify you. If your gender doesn't fall squarely within one of two checkboxes, that confuses the issue as well.

The state is all about simplicity and constraining the common case of humanity into a box that suits their needs. Those who don't fit so comfortably (or at all) are given short shrift.

It doesn't even have to be vindictive (though I'm sure at times it is, humans being the cretinous creatures they can be), it can just be monolithic, immovable and non-negotiable.

There are some people get dealt their share of challenges in this life. Every time I think mine are too great, I think of Zoe and I realize what she went through to get to where she is would defy my comprehension and probably be more than I could endure. The world does not deal everyone an equal lot.

Justine Valinotti said...

Lux: One of the reasons why governments don't want to go through the "hassle" of allowing people to change their names and genders is that not allowing those things gives the governments more power. It's easier for them to control people when each one can be reduced to a number and one check or another on a box.

To be fair, those who control other kinds of bureaucracies feel the same way. It's easier to track someone's credit history, for example, if he or she retains the same name and gender. And it's easier for employers to track people, too.

Anonymous said...

I must have missed something here. How did the state (judge) gain the right to impound her assets? in her name?
sorry for the anon, having blogger issue

Anonymous said...

How did the state (judge) gain the right to impound her assets?

Because a cis person always trumps a trans person.

Trans people have no rights. Trans people have no protections. Trans people have no access to equal treatment under the law.