Articles Posted in In the News (The Family Court)

A Palm Beach County probate case and a divorce action in Broward County might not necessarily seem to have much in common, but two rulings in those cases issued earlier this month share a common link, for each addressed the timely issue of same-sex marriage. Additionally, as the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald reported, each judge in those cases concluded that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage ban is unlawfully discriminatory. The recent rulings follow on the heels of two prior decisions, one each in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, that also determined that the marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Broward case involved a lesbian couple who married in Vermont in 2002. Four years ago, the couple separated. One of the women recently filed a petition in Broward Circuit Court to dissolve their marriage. One essential legal question in the case regarded whether the Florida courts have the legal authority to dissolve an entity — a same-sex couple’s marriage — that Florida does not recognize as valid in the first place. In addressing that question, Judge Dale Cohen decided that the ban on same-sex marriages violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

In his 16-page order, Judge Cohen stated that to “discriminate based on sexual orientation … to hold some couples less worthy of legal benefits than others based on their sexual orientation,” Cohen wrote, “is against all that this country holds dear, as it denies equal citizenship. Marriage is a well recognized fundamental right; all people should be entitled to enjoy its benefits.” Last month, Judge Luis Garcia in Monroe County and Miami-Dade County Judge Sarah Zabel reached similar conclusions on the equal protection question.
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A circuit court judge in the Florida Keys recently ruled that the Florida Constitution’s ban on marriages between same-sex partners violates the US Constitution’s equal protection clause, the Miami Herald reported. The ruling, which the state has appealed, could have a wide-reaching impact for many Florida same-sex couples, beyond simply those seeking to marry.

In a ruling issued July 17, Plantation Key-based Judge Luis Garcia decided that, when the Monroe County Clerk’s denied a marriage license to Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, the state violated the mens’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The fact that Florida’s same-sex marriage was the result of a ballot initiative approved by a majority of voters did not matter. According to the court’s decision, it “is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority.”

The ruling applies only to couples seeking to marry in Monroe County. The state Attorney General’s office immediately filed a notice of appeal, which stayed enforcement of Judge Garcia’s ruling. This means that all potential same-sex marriages in the county remain on hold until the court of appeals resolves the state’s appeal, although Huntsman and Jones have asked Judge Garcia to lift the stay and allow the Monroe County Clerk to begin issuing licenses right away.
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In a victory for gay and lesbian parents, the 5th District Court of Appeal reinstated a lesbian’s parental rights regarding the child she had helped raise with her now former partner. The court’s ruling stated that the child’s biological mother could not invoke the authority of the court system to approve the other woman’s adoption of her son and then use those same courts to take those parental rights away simply because the women’s relationship ended.

The case centered upon the son of two lesbian women, identified in court records only as “C.P.” and “G.P.”, who were in a committed relationship from 2005 to 2012. In 2007, C.P. conceived and gave birth to a son. G.P. was present at the boy’s birth and was designated as a parent on all of the child’s medical and school documents. G.P. took on an equal role to C.P. in parenting the child for the first four years of his life.

In January 2012, G.P. legally adopted the boy. The couple had filed their request as a “step-parent adoption.” The couple then obtained an amended birth certificate naming both women as the child’s parents.
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A Tampa lesbian couple who married in Massachusetts in 2010 encountered a roadblock recently in their ongoing effort to get divorced. A trial court judge ruled that, because Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages as valid, Florida courts lack the authority to dissolve them, the Tampa Tribune reported. The couple’s attorneys announced their intent to appeal the ruling, where they will argue that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

The lesbian couple in this case married in Sunderland, Mass. in 2010. The next year, they moved to Tampa. Unfortunately for the couple, the relationship deteriorated and they separated last fall. One of the women called the court clerk’s office in Franklin County, Mass. to inquire about obtaining a divorce. The clerk there explained that the woman could only file for divorce in Massachusetts if she had lived there for at least a year. She then filed for uncontested divorce in January in Hillsborough County.

In March, the couple completed a marital settlement agreement regarding the division of their assets. The woman’s lawyers argued that, if the legislature had desired to strip courts of the authority to grant divorces in cases involving homosexual couples, it could have explicitly stated this intent in the 2008 Definition of Marriage amendment to the state constitution. By contrast, Georgia’s constitution expressly forbids courts from granting divorces or maintenance in cases involving same-sex couples. Florida’s amendment has no such language.
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Just five months after the death of Broward Circuit judge Susan Aramony, the South Florida community suffered another loss, as Amy Karan, a former Miami-Dade judge, passed away on Sept. 8. Karan, known as a judiciary leader in the area of domestic violence, was 54.

Karan, a Long Island native, received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Miami. Karan’s professional career began as a family law practitioner, and she also served as an Assistant City Attorney in North Bay Village. She moved to the bench in 1997. There, she served for a dozen years before retiring in 2010. Karan retired early as her battle with the effects of Multiple System Atrophy, a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease, had begun to affect her ability to speak. In addition to her work on the bench, Judge Karan taught multiple courses at the National Judicial College and St. Thomas University.

A central piece of Karan’s legacy involved her leadership in the area of domestic violence, particularly the intertwining of domestic violence and guns. In 2007, while on the bench, Karan began requiring individuals subject to domestic violence injunctions to surrender not only their weapons but also their concealed weapons permits.
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Last year, Okaloosa County, Florida created its first Unified Family Court in Crestview. Okaloosa County Circuit Judge Terry Ketchel was appointed to preside over the court. According to Ketchel, the court was set up to bring related domestic issues into the same courtroom before a single judge. He also stated civil cases concerning divorce, domestic violence, neglect, and juvenile delinquency make up almost half of all cases heard in the First Judicial District of Florida.

Terry Terrell, Chief Judge of the First Judicial Circuit, is committed to the Unified Family Court concept. Terrell, who was previously appointed to a Family Court Steering Committee by the Supreme Court of Florida, believes Crestview was a particularly well-suited location in which to begin the program. Although the Unified Family Court is still in its early stages, Okaloosa County officials hope to establish another location next year.

Judge Ketchel believes the new court provides judges with an opportunity to engage in better decision-making because it provides a judge with a better understanding of a family’s particular situation. He also stated prior to implementation of the new court, it was not uncommon for a single family to have multiple cases on the family law docket at any given time. The primary goal of the Unified Family Court is to protect children. According to Ketchel, “They’re not causing any of this, but they are dramatically impacted. Even the best of divorces is traumatic for children.”

Although there is no way to truly determine the success of the county’s new family court, employees at the Department of Children and Families in Northwest Florida support the concept. Additionally, Terrell believes the court has increased judicial efficiency and acts as an effective case management tool. It will be interesting to learn whether other Florida counties soon follow the new Okaloosa County family court model.

If you are faced with divorce or other stressful family law matters, you need an experienced attorney who is focused on family law to help you navigate the legal process. Whether or not you have legal counsel for marital and family law matters can make a huge difference in your future. A knowledgeable family law attorney can help.
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Three days after he administered the Florida attorney’s oath to his son Carlos, 58-year-old Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Julio Jimenez succumbed to liver cancer. The former defense attorney started his career as a circuit judge in 2003. He began presiding over Miami-Dade family law matters last January.

Judge Jimenez was born in Matanzas, Cuba and immigrated to the United States with only his sister at the age of eight. When the rest of his family arrived in the United States, Jimenez’s family moved to Chicago. He attended the University of Illinois and later earned a law degree from DePaul University. Jimenez moved to the Miami Metro as a new attorney more than thirty years ago. The young defense lawyer met his wife, Lili, at the court house where she worked as an interpreter for Spanish speakers.

Jimenez is remembered as an active judge who truly enjoyed his job. 11th Circuit Chief Judge Joel Brown stated Jimenez was a well respected judge who had a reputation for both integrity and fairness. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto said Jimenez was a smart, decisive man. Early on in Cueto’s career, Jimenez served as a role model for the type of judge he hoped to become.

Judge Jimenez was also known for his willingness to make tough decisions in the courtroom. When presiding over criminal trials, he offered up long prison sentences for violent offenders. A former law partner said Jimenez always had the ability to differentiate between those offenders who merely made a mistake and those whose violence merited stiff punishment. Jimenez also expected parties to be practical and negotiate plea deals in those cases he felt ought to be resolved prior to trial.

Unfortunately, after only one year in the Miami-Dade Circuit’s family law division, Judge Jimenez lost his battle with liver cancer. He is survived by his wife and three children.
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A Fort Lauderdale mother was awarded unsupervised time-sharing and visitation rights to her 11-month-old son. However, a Broward county General Magistrate denied her requested to regain full custody of her child. The court ordered the child, Charlie Costa, to stay with a new foster family in light of a recent injury.

The minor child, Charlie Costa, is at Broward General Medical Center suffering from a skull fracture. He is reported to be alert, eating and does not have any hemorrhaging. In light of his recent injury, the mother, Apple Costa, unsuccessfully persuaded General Magistrate Giuseppina Miranda to remove her child from foster care and place him back in her home.

The minor child entered foster care 7 months ago due to burns on his hand and his mother’s drug addiction. Since then, his mother has had clean drug tests, completed parenting counseling and had psychiatric evaluations.

The Florida Governor’s Office is reporting that Governor Charlie Christ has appointed Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Kevin Emas to the Third District Court of Appeal. Divorce attorneys in Miami appear before Judge Emas where he presently presides over cases which involve dissolution of marriage, child support, paternity, child custody, alimony, parenting plans and time-sharing schedules.

Judge Emas has been a Circuit Court Judge since 2001. Prior to his tenure on the as a Circuit Court Judge, he had been a Miami-Dade County Court Judge from 1996 to 2001. Judge Emas was appointed to the Third District Court of Appeal as a result of the retirement of Judge Gerald B. Cope.