A Wisconsin statute governed the division of property between spouses when they separated or divorced. This case involved a man and woman who lived together and had children, but never married. The woman performed housekeeping, child rearing, and substantial services for her partner’s business for which she received no pay. When their relationship ended, the woman sued her partner for her share of the couple’s property. Writing for a unanimous court, Abrahamson held that even though the Wisconsin divorce statute did not apply to this relationship, the woman could still pursue a claim for breach of an express or implied contract to share accumulated property or a claim for unjust enrichment against her partner.
This case arose 20 years before the United State Supreme Court recognized the right of gay people to marry. A Wisconsin statute provided child visitation rights for parents after they terminated their marriage, but it did not apply to a committed relationship between two people of the same gender. Writing for the majority, Abrahamson held that courts have the equitable power to determine visitation rights for non-traditional relationships not covered by the statutes. In contrast, the dissenters argued that in a relationship between two women, the one who is not the biological mother of their child has no visitation rights.
A Wisconsin statute allowed spouses to enter agreements about how they would divide property in the event of a divorce. Courts had to enforce the agreement unless it was inequitable. Abrahamson established how courts made this determination. She held that a martial property agreement is equitable where: (1) each spouse made fair and reasonable disclosure of his or her financial status; (2) each spouse entered the agreement voluntarily and freely; and (3) the agreement’s division of property upon divorce is fair to each spouse.