Elia-Warnken v. Elia
WO09D0940DR (Probate and Family Court)
2011-P-0069 / SJC 11023 (Supreme Court)
Full name Todd J. Elia-Warnken vs. Richard A. Elia
Filed 2009-04-15
Ended 2012-07-26
Plaintiffs Todd J. Elia-Warnken
Defendants Richard A. Elia
Initial court Probate and Family Court Department, Worcester Division
Final court Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Current status Case closed

Elia-Warnken v. Elia is a 2009-2012 Massachusetts divorce case. The legal significance of the case is that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognized that a Vermont civil union should be treated as a marriage in Massachusetts for purposes of the state's polygamy law.

On April 19, 2013, Todd J. Elia-Warnken entered into a civil union in Vermont. Then, on October 17, 2005, Todd entered into a marriage in Massachusetts with Richard A. Elia, without having first dissolved his prior civil union.

On April 15, 2009, Todd filed for divorce in the Worcester Division of the Probate and Family Court Department. Richard's answer, filed on January 12, 2010, also counterclaimed for a divorce. At some point after that, Richard discovered that Todd had still been in a civil union when they wed, and in March, 2010, Richard moved to dismiss the complaint and the counterclaim on the grounds that the marriage was void. At some point, the question of whether a Vermont civil union should be treated as a marriage was decided for one side and appealed by the other side (the record does not indicate which), and the Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case from the Court of Appeals.


  • "Refusing to recognize a legal spousal relationship that granted rights equal to those acquired through marriage, in a State that did not allow same-sex couples to marry at the time, would only perpetuate the discrimination against same-sex couples that was the concern expressed in Opinions of the Justices." (p. 34)
  • "...if we do not recognize the plaintiff's civil union, he would have two legal spouses, each of whom could expect virtually the same obligations from him, such as spousal or child support, inheritance, and healthcare coverage. [...] Likewise, the plaintiff could demand the same obligations from each of his spouses. Preventing complications such as these is one of the purposes of the polygamy statutes..." (pp. 34-35)
  • "We shall recognize a Vermont civil union as the equivalent of marriage in the Commonwealth under principles of comity." (p. 35)
  • "[A] Vermont civil union must be dissolved prior to either party entering into marriage with a third person in the Commonwealth." (p. 36)