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Same-Sex Divorce Upheld in Florida Appellate Court

Earlier this year, same-sex marriage became legal in Florida. While this change in the law suggested that same-sex divorce also could become a possibility in our state, no clear decisions had made same-sex divorce clearly permissible throughout Florida. However, a recent decision by Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a decision “cementing the right of same-sex couples to get divorced, the first ruling of its kind that binds judges across the state,” according to a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times.

Dissolving Same-Sex Unions Previously a “Subject of Debate”

Prior to the 2nd District Court of Appeals’ recent ruling, dissolving same-sex unions had remained a subject of debate in Florida, according to the article. While in most cases “unhappy couples have been able to get their unions dissolved,” the Tampa Bay Times reported, many couples that entered into same-sex marriages outside the state of Florida found themselves trapped in unhappy marriages. According to an advocate in the Tampa area, “this decision [to permit same-sex divorces] is important because it makes it clear that same-sex couples are entitled to get a divorced.”

Even though many Floridians assumed that the lifting of the gay marriage ban back in January would mean that gay couples could seek divorces in our state courts, no definitive decision had solidified this possibility.

Details of the Case

What were the facts of the case that made clear that same-sex couples can get a divorce in Florida? It involved Danielle Brandon-Thomas, a woman who filed for divorce in Florida. Back in 2012, Danielle married Krista Brandon-Thomas legally in Massachusetts. The couple then moved to Florida with their child. The child was born during their marriage, but it was Krista’s biological child. And, given that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remained in place, the state of Florida considered the child legally to be Krista’s, as well.

When Danielle filed for divorce, Krista argued that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages meant that Danielle wouldn’t be able to get a divorce in the state. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi sought to uphold Florida’s gay-marriage ban, arguing that, because the couple couldn’t legally marry in Florida, they also couldn’t legally divorce. A judge in Lee County, Florida agreed.

However, the appellate court reversed the decision in Lee County, emphasizing that Florida has “no legitimate government interest in preventing gay couples from getting divorced.” To be sure, the three-judge panel articulated, “Our decision today protects the parties’ rights of access to the court for dissolution of their marriage and an opportunity to be heard regarding their claimed rights to their assets and the child.”

Same-sex marriage is a recent development in Florida, and the ability for gay couples to get divorced in our state likely will have an impact on the number of marriage dissolutions that the courts will see. If you have questions about filing for divorce, you should discuss your case with an experienced divorce lawyer. Contact the Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood Law Offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. for legal advice at 954-963-5900 or leave a message online.

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