Martina Navratilova lawsuit could assist in separation rights of LGBT couples

10/05/09 Mark Anderson
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

Toni Layton, the former long-term partner of tennis great Martina Navratilova, recently filed suit in Sarasota County, seeking a share of the couple’s earnings and assets as compensation for her contributions during their 8-year relationship. The case involving the 9-time Wimbledon’s Women’s tennis singles winner could pave a way to provide legal protection for the breakup of long term same sex marriages in Florida, where such marriages are not legally recognized.

The couple were together from 2000 until 2008, long after Navratilova’s string of Wimbledon and U.S. Open wins in the 70s and 80s. During this period, Navratilova was successful in playing tennis, and in earning money for endorsements. The basis of Layton’s suit is that she and Navratilova shared both a personal and business relationship, and that she is owed a portion of the couple’s income and property based on a contract that existed between the two. Raymond Rafool, the attorney representing Layton, explained their approach.

The principal challenge of the suit is proving that a business contract existed between the pair, and that the business contract was separate and distinct from their personal relationship. The existence of this business contract must meet the definitions of business contracts specified in Florida Law. Visiting Stetson Professor of Law Bruce Carolan reviewed the case, and commented on the use of this approach.

This case could provide the potential for establishing a legal precedent for protecting same sex couples in Florida going forward. WMNF asked Rafool to comment as to whether or not he views this case as a potential precedent setter.

Last November, Florida voters passed Amendment 2, which defines marriage as a union only between one man and one woman, thus banning the creation of civil unions and same sex marriages. Amendment 2 leaves same sex couples without a framework of legal rights for property distribution in the event of the relationship termination. This use of a business contract approach could provide a legal means of working around Amendment 2.

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