WHARTON, Texas – A Wharton County judge on Tuesday declared that a transgender widow’s marriage to a fallen Wharton firefighter was not valid, so she is not eligible for his death benefits.
Ever since Thomas Araguz died fighting a fire at an egg farm last year, his family has been battling his widow, Nikki Araguz, over $600,000 in death benefits.
The firefighter’s family argued that, since Nikki Araguz was born a man, her marriage to Thomas Araguz –under Texas law – was not valid.
The family said the death benefits should go to Thomas Araguz’s two children with his first wife.
But Nikki Araguz has maintained that Thomas Araguz knew about her past as a man, and that their marriage was legal.
Nikki Araguz had sexual reassignment surgery after the marriage. The couple was estranged at the time of Thomas Araguz’s death.
On Tuesday, Judge Randy Clapp said that because Nikki Araguz was born a man, Thomas Araguz was not married on the day he died, and any marriage – formal or informal – is void.
The attorney for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife issued a statement Tuesday afternoon praising the ruling.
"We are very pleased that Judge Clapp chose to follow and uphold the law of the state of Texas. By virtue of the court’s ruling, all benefits that were contested between Nikki Araguz and the children of Thomas Araguz related to his death will now be paid to his children. We are pleased that Thomas’ children will be spared further financial hardship in waiting for benefits that are rightfully theirs," attorney Frank Mann wrote.
Nikki Araguz also released a statement after the ruling.
"Both myself and my family are grateful for the out-pouring of understanding, kindness, sympathy, and support over the past year. I am totally devastated by the court ruling. At this time I have no comment for the media, but will be issuing a statement shortly after I consider my options," the statement read.
However, the fight for the $600,000 could drag on for quite some time.
According to attorneys, it’s likely that the benefits won’t be released until the appeals process is over, and that could take another year.