Florida Same-Sex Couples Facing Divorce Issues

Serving Families Throughout Palm Beach Gardens

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled last week that Keiba Lynn Shaw and Mariama Changamire Shaw, a lesbian couple in Tampa, will be allowed to divorce.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the court to wait on making a decision until the U.S. Supreme Court issued their ruling on same-sex marriage.  However, the appellate court did not wait and issued a terse opinion reversing the order by a Hillsborough Circuit judge that refused to grant the couple a divorce.

The ruling was welcomed by Equality Florida, an organization advocating for civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. “The second District Court of Appeal joined the tidal wave of courts across the country who have affirmed the rights of same-sex couples to be treated equally under the law.”  Advocates believe this ruling serves to reiterate the Nation’s increased support of same-sex marriage.

The Shaws were married in Massachusetts, and later moved to Florida where they agreed to divorce.  Last year the couple decided to dissolve their union through collaborative divorce methods, and asked the court to issue a legal declaration ending their marriage.  Circuit Judge Laurel M. Lee refused to grant the divorce citing provisions of state law and the state Constitution which ban the recognition of same-sex marriages.  Lee stated she couldn’t dissolve the marriage in a state where same sex-marriage doesn’t legally exist.

After the appellate court turned over Lee’s prior ruling, Keiba Shaw’s lawyer stated “This is a good day for equality. Many people focus on marriage equality, but divorce equality is just as important. Now my client can move on with her life.” Many same-sex couples are finding it difficult to divorce in Florida, but seem to be finding some relief in appellate courts.

In December, the 3rd District Court of Appeals issued a ruling denying a divorce to a same-sex couple that was married in Iowa but later moved to Florida.  The couple appealed the ruling arguing that the state’s same sex marriage ban applied only to marriages, not divorces. The 3rd DCA rejected the appeal and denied the couple’s divorce stating, “one cannot dissolve a marriage where there is not a marriage to dissolve.”  After the Florida law surrounding gay marriage changed in January the couple was granted a divorce.

There is no official count of how many same-sex divorces have occurred in Florida, and it remains to be a grey issue for judges.  The Supreme Court is expected to pass down their ruling on same-sex marriage within the month.

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John Schutz

John Schutz

Partner at John F. Schutz, P.L.

Representing clients exclusively in family law cases for the past 24 years, Mr. Schutz is widely regarded as a marital and family law expert. He is Board Certified in marital and family law by The Florida Bar. As a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), Mr. Schutz is committed to elevating the standards and improving the practice of family law.

John Schutz

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