In March, a Tampa-area couple made headlines when they filed for a divorce. What made their divorce so special? Their gender. The couple, both women, had been married in Massachusetts years before. When they decided to end their union, they thought nothing of filing their divorce action in the state where they lived. But the judge–and the state of Florida–had other plans.
Same-Sex Marriage in Florida
In 2008, Florida voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. State law also holds that marriages between same-sex couples that were entered into in other jurisdictions are invalid in Florida.
These laws have frequently been challenged. In mid-July 2014, a judge in Monroe County struck down the 2008 ban and stated that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Just one week later, a judge in Miami made a similar ruling, holding that the ban was discriminatory and violated same-sex couples’ right to equal protection under the law. Both decisions have been appealed by the state Attorney General, Pamela Bondi.
Same-Sex Divorce in Florida
While those seeking to marry have made gains, those looking to leave their marriages have a long way to go. Several Florida courts have granted divorces to same-sex couples, but Laurel Lee, the judge in the Tampa case, refused to do so. In Lee’s view, because the state did not recognize the couple’s marriage, the court had no authority to end the union.
This ruling has serious implications. Generally, couples are required to divorce in the state and county that has jurisdiction over them. Jurisdiction is typically established by residence, or how long a person has lived in a particular state. This means that if Florida refuses to allow same-sex couples to divorce, they have two unsatisfactory options. First, one or both partners may choose to go to a state that recognizes their marriage and establish residency. Obviously, this is problematic; it’s rare that a spouse would have the ability (let alone the willingness) to uproot their lives and move to another state for a number of months before they can even consider filing for a divorce. Second, the couple can choose to “self separate” and live as though they are divorced. Because Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages, agreements on child custody and alimony cannot be enforced. Furthermore, because the couple was never actually divorced, they can never remarry. Thus, many couples are being forced to spend their lives together–even if they don’t want to.
The Tampa couple is gearing up for a fight. Their attorneys claim that Florida laws prohibit same-sex marriage, not same-sex divorce. The Florida Bar Family Law Section is jumping into the ring as well, arguing that the couple is being "denied equal access to the courts."
Contact a Tampa Bay Divorce Attorney
For now, same-sex marriage and divorce are in a state of flux in Florida. It’s unclear how long the Attorney General’s appeals will take, and it’s uncertain of what will happen next. In such an unsettled atmosphere, it’s crucial that those considering a divorce get all the help they can. If you have questions about same-sex divorce, contact our Experienced Attorneys & Counselors at Law since 1997 Serving all of Tampa Bay. Call 813-672-1900 now for a free initial consultation www.familymaritallaw.com.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google