CLEARWATER, Fla. - Lawrence Roach agreed to pay alimony to the woman he divorced, not the man she became after a sex change, his lawyers argued Tuesday in an effort to end the payments. But the ex-wife's attorneys said the operation doesn't alter the agreement.
The lawyers and Circuit Judge Jack R. St. Arnold agreed the case delves into relatively unchartered legal territory. They found only a 2004 Ohio case that addressed whether or not a transsexual could still collect alimony after a sex change.
"There is not a lot out there to help us," St. Arnold said.
Roach and his wife, Julia, divorced in 2004 after 18 years of marriage. The 48-year-old utility worker agreed to pay her $1,250 a month in alimony. Since then, Julia Roach, 55, had a sex change and legally changed her name to Julio Roberto Silverwolf.
"It's illegal for a man to marry a man and it should likewise be illegal for a man to pay alimony to a man," Roach's attorney John McGuire said. "When she changed to man, I believe she terminated that alimony."
Silverwolf did not appear in court Tuesday and has declined to talk about the divorce. His lawyer, Gregory Nevins, said the language of the divorce decree is clear and firm — Roach agreed to pay alimony until his ex-wife dies or remarries.
"Those two things haven't happened," said Nevins, a senior staff attorney with the national gay rights group Lambda Legal.
Arnold is considering the arguments. But lawyers on both sides agreed Tuesday that Roach will likely have to keep paying alimony to Silverwolf.
The judge poked holes in several of Roach's legal arguments and noted that appeals courts have declined to legally recognize a sex change in Florida when it comes to marriage. The appellate court "is telling us you are what you are when you are born," Arnold said.
In the Ohio case, an appeals court ruled in September 2004 that a Montgomery County man must continue to pay $750 a month in alimony to his transsexual ex-wife because her sex change wasn't reason enough to violate the agreement.
Roach's other attorney, John Smitten, said the case falls into a legal void.
"It's probably something that has to be addressed by the Legislature," Smitten said. "There is one other case in the entire United States. It really needs to be addressed either for or against the concept of eliminating alimony for that reason."
Roach, who has since remarried, said has been unable to convince state and federal lawmakers to tackle the issue. He said he will continue to fight.
"This is definitely wrong. I have a right to move forward with my life. I wish no harm and hardship to that person," Roach said of his ex-wife. "They can be the person they want to be, to find happiness and peace within themselves. I have the right to do the same. But I can't rest because I'm paying a lot of money every month."
The legal fight is the second transsexual rights showdown in Pinellas County in less than a week. On Friday, transsexual activists from around the country packed a City Commission meeting in neighboring Largo to oppose the firing of City Manager Steve Stanton after he announced he was a transsexual.
Despite the support, commissioners voted 5-2 to fire Stanton.