Florida DCA Rules that Full Faith and Credit Clause Requires Trial Court to Hear Same-Sex Divorce Case

In the most recent case involving same-sex couples who married in other states and seek to divorce in Florida, the 2d District Court of Appeal concluded that a southwest Florida trial court was wrong to dismiss a woman’s dissolution of marriage petition. The court ruling decided that, under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Florida courts should entertain same-sex spouses’ divorce petitions just as they would hear a petition for dissolution filed by a heterosexual spouse who married in another state.

This case involved Danielle and Krista Brandon-Thomas, who married in Massachusetts in the fall of 2012. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to Florida, but the marriage did not last. Just a year after their wedding, Danielle filed for divorce in Lee County. Krista, in a position supposed by the Florida Attorney General, asked the trial court to throw out the case, arguing that Florida law did not recognize same-sex marriages and Florida courts had no power to dissolve that which, under the terms of the Florida Statutes, never existed.

The trial court agreed with Krista and the Attorney General and dismissed the case. Danielle appealed, and, in a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court sided with her. The court concluded that the Full Faith and Credit Clause required the Florida courts to hear divorce petitions of individuals validly and legally married in other states, regardless of whether the couple was same-sex or opposite-sex.

The court pointed out that Florida courts routinely grant divorces to heterosexual couples married in other states and other countries. In perhaps a particularly relevant point, the appeals court pointed out that Florida recognizes a common-law marriage as valid if a couple became married in a common-law marriage state, even though Florida itself has not allowed common-law marriages for Florida couples in nearly half a century.

Krista and the Attorney General argued unsuccessfully that granting a same-sex divorce would violate Florida public policy as spelled out in the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Krista argued that the state had a legitimate policy interest in regulating marriage in order to reduce the likelihood of children “accidentally conceived” outside a committed relationship. This basis was not relevant, though, since “as a matter of pure biology, same-sex couples simply cannot ‘accidentally conceive’ children.”

The Attorney General fared no better in citing Florida’s interest in defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The appeals court reasoned that this goal would actually be better furthered by allowing Florida courts to dissolve same-sex marriages, since granting those divorces would mean fewer gay and lesbian married couples in Florida.

Furthermore, as one of the concurring opinions noted, Krista had a child during the marriage. As a result, Florida’s strong and long-standing policy favoring the best interests of the child should take precedence over other policy considerations and require the courts to hear the case, in order to address matters such as custody, child support, and a parenting plan.

As many same-sex couples fight for the right to marry, many others are on a parallel path: fighting for the right to end their marriages. In both areas, the law is rapidly evolving. For knowledgeable advice and reliable representation in dealing with the end of your same-sex marriage, talk to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our skilled lawyers are here to help you understand your options and establish a plan that works for your family.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Lesbian Couple Fails to Secure Florida Divorce Using Unique Interpretation of Same-Sex Marriage Statute, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 5, 2015
Broward Judge Grants Florida’s First Ever Same-Sex Divorce, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 17, 2014

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