Groundbreaking US Supreme Court Case Clarifies Status for Same-Sex Couples Seeking to Divorce in Florida

Earlier this summer, the US Supreme Court ruled on the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. In that decision, the court narrowly ruled that the 14th Amendment recognized a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples. As part of this ruling, not only must states issue marriages to same-sex couples seeking to unite in Florida, the state must also legally recognize as valid same-sex marriages and civil unions granted by other states. This requirement that all states recognize all validly issued same-sex marriages provides a degree of clarity when it comes to same-sex divorces, and it resolves the legal limbo that entrapped some couples living in Florida.

These couples included Keiba Lynn Shaw and Mariama Changamire Shaw, who married in Massachusetts in 2010. A year after their wedding, the couple moved to the Tampa Bay area. In the fall of 2013, they separated and began seeking a divorce early in 2014. The divorce was uncontested, with the couple having no children and completing a settlement agreement to divide their assets and debts. Courts uniformly refused to grant them a divorce, however, concluding that a Florida court could not dissolve their marriage because, under the Florida Constitution, the marriage never validly existed in the first place.

Heather Oliver and Sarah Stufflebeam married in Iowa in 2009. In 2012, they mutually decided to end their relationship. In the interim, they had moved to South Florida. Like the Shaws, this couple’s attempt to divorce was thwarted when the courts decided they lacked the legal capacity to grant the women the dissolution they sought.

Each couple can now go forward with their divorces and move on with their lives. The US Supreme Court decision dictates that Florida must recognize the couples’ Massachusetts and Iowa marriages, and, as a result, Florida courts may grant dissolutions of those marriages if the couples otherwise qualify.

For same-sex couples living in Florida who are married (or joined by a civil union) and may be contemplating divorce, it is important to understand the requirements Florida imposes on all couples in order to issue a divorce. At the time of filing, one spouse must have been a legal resident of Florida for at least six months. The spouse submitting the divorce petition must do so in a county where he or she lives, his or her spouse lives, or in the county when the two of you last lived as a married couple.

In your divorce petition, Florida law requires you to assert that your marriage is “irretrievably broken,” or that your spouse is mentally incapacitated. While the law does not require a spouse to prove that the other spouse was at fault, the court can consider evidence of one spouse’s fault and use that proof when making its decisions regarding alimony, equitable distribution, and parental responsibility.

Many couples complete their divorces through the “Regular Dissolution of Marriage” procedure, but Florida also has a “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage” option. Not all couples are eligible for the simplified procedure.

Now that same-sex marriage is fully legal and recognized in Florida, that means that same-sex divorce is as well. A same-sex couple’s divorce, like any divorce, may be difficult and stressful. These divorces may also present unique challenges. For reliable advice and skillful representation in your divorce, consult the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our diligent and knowledgeable attorneys can offer you and your family the thoughtfulness and expertise your case deserves.

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, Palm Beach Courts Join 2 Others in Ruling State’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 5, 2014