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Death of Female Partner Puts Cozen Firm in Center of Same-Sex Marriage Comity Case

Posted Jan 10, 2011 1:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The death of a female partner of Cozen O'Connor has put the law firm in the center of a dispute over a cutting-edge same-sex marriage issue—whether a marriage that is legal in one jurisdiction should be recognized as valid in another in which the parties would not have a right to wed.

After Sarah Ellyn Farley, 37, died of cancer in September, her parents contended that they are entitled to her profit-sharing account. However, her wife, Jennifer Tobits, to whom she was legally married in Toronto in 2006 also is claiming that she is entitled to the proceeds of the account, according to a Chicago Tribune obituary and a Legal Intelligencer article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

Philadelphia-based Cozen O'Connor has filed an interpleader action in federal court in Pennsylvania to determine to whom the account should be paid out. Farley worked out of the firm's Chicago office.

Farley's parents argue they are entitled to the money based on two alternative theories, according to the Legal Intelligencer:

First, they say she executed a beneficiary designation form in their favor shortly before her death, although the law firm says it lacks at least one requisite signature. Second, they say their daughter's marriage was invalid under Illinois and Pennsylvania law and hence, since there is no surviving spouse, they are legally entitled to the money as Farley's surviving parents.

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