Widow's death benefit battle back in court

Nikki Araguz, the transgendered woman who was fighting for the survivor's benefits after the death of her firefighter husband, has apparently lost her legal fight.

May 20, 2011 2:44:09 PM PDT
Nearly a year after the death of Wharton firefighter Thomas Araguz, III, questions remain about who is eligible to receive the survivor's benefits. The reason? Araguz's second wife is transgendered, and his first wife claims that means their marriage was never legal. In the balance is about $600,000 in benefits from the death of firefighter Thomas Araguz. For most of the day, Nikki Araguz sat in court listening to attorneys argue whether the state of Texas legally considers her a man or a woman.

She said, "I'm embracing what's going on and hoping for a positive outcome today."

It's been nearly a year since Thomas died fighting a fire at a Wharton egg farm. He is survived by his widow Nikki and his two children. His ex-wife, Heather Delgato is suing to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in death benefits for the children, alleging that under Texas law, Nikki's marriage to Thomas is void because she was born a man and Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Delgato's attorney Edward Burwell said, "To find that the marriage between Nikki Araguz and Thomas Araguz is void as a matter of law, and basically because it is void it doesn't exist, it never existed and it's a legal impossibility in the state of Texas."

Nikki says she had gender reassignment surgery after she married her husband and that he was fully aware of her intent to do so.

For nearly every moment Friday, Araguz was followed by a camera. She has just announced her intent to produce a reality show about her life.

Araguz also presented the media with what she calls a "re-issued" birth certificate from California where she was born, but it lists her gender as female.

She claimed, "According to the state of California and the records they hold, I am female and have been since the day I was born."

But this is Texas, the judge noted, not California. Araguz got that birth certificate after her husband died. Attorneys representing the children's interests say there's a clear reason.

"This has been nothing but a money grab by Nikki from the beginning," Burwell said.

Araguz insists this is not a money grab. She says she is only seeking what she says is rightfully hers as a spouse of a fallen firefighter.

The judge says he will take a week or so before announcing his ruling.

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