Florida Court Denies Lesbian Couple’s Request to Divorce

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.

Earlier this month, a trial judge in Tampa rejected the couple’s dissolution petition, ruling that the court lacked the authority to grant them the divorce they sought. The court cited the 2008 marriage amendment to the state constitution, which states that no same-sex unions “shall be valid or recognized.” The judge explained that, because the couple did not have a valid marriage, Florida courts lack the power “to dissolve that which does not exist.”

The woman’s attorney indicated that his client would appeal and her wife’s attorney expressed optimism about the couple’s chances for success going forward. “We’re pretty confident that the parties will be able to get a divorce through the Second District Court of Appeal or the Florida Supreme Court,” an attorney for one of the women told the Tribune.

The appeal could hold broad impact if it is successful, depending on the basis the Second DCA or Supreme Court adopts for siding with the couple. The couple argued before the trial court that Florida law does not prevent the courts from granting their divorce. Alternatively, the couple contended that state’s same-sex marriage ban is an unconstitutional infringement on homosexuals’ Due Process and Equal Protection rights. In addition to arguing that the amendment violates the fundamental right to marry and the right to privacy, the couples also asserted that refusing to grant their divorce infringes on their right to access to the courts and that the current state of the law improperly deters same-sex couples from travel or migration to Florida.

Family law, as it impacts same-sex families, is often evolving. For knowledgeable advice and representation on your family law issue, contact the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A.. Our attorneys can help you pursue the best solution for the needs of your family.

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

More Blog Posts:

Florida Supreme Court Upholds Same-Sex Partner’s Right to Co-Parent Child After Couple Splits, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 6, 2013
Three Parents? Florida Judge Allows Biological Father on Birth Certificate with Lesbian Parents, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb 19, 2013