Will Florida Grant a Transgender Name Change?

The Associated Press is reporting that a transgender man’s request to change his legal name has been rejected by a Georgia Superior Court Judge.  The man, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, wants to change his legal name from Rebeccah Elizabeth Feldhaus to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus.

In rejecting the request, Judge J. David Roper wrote, “The question presented is whether a female has the statutory right to changer her name to a traditionally and obviously male name.  The Court concludes that she does not have such right.”

So would a transgender person’s petition for a change of legal name to reflect their gender identity be granted in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, or elsewhere in Florida?

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Can 2 Men or 2 Women Appear on a Florida Birth Certificate?

Florida has not had the best history when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples.  For the longest time, the state had a law on the books that gay men and women were forbidden from adopting a child.  Florida not only enacted a so-called Defense of Marriage Act statute but enshrined its opposition to same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution.  Further, even once Florida courts ruled that the state must recognize marriage between people of the same sex, it was unclear whether the state would permit same-sex divorce.

Fortunately, the state has come a long way.  The “gay adoption ban” is no longer on the books.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a ban on the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is unconstitutional, as is a refusal of one state to recognize a same-sex marriage solemnized in another state.  And it has become clear that circuit courts in Tampa Bay and around the state must give same-sex spouses the opportunity to dissolve their marriage.

So, at this point, can two parents of the same sex appear on a Florida birth certificate?

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US Supreme Court: Second Parent Adoptions Protected by Full Faith and Credit

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state must give full faith and credit to a judgment granting a second parent adoption issued by a court of competent jurisdiction of another state.

A second parent adoption is similar to a stepparent adoption, where one spouse adopts the other spouse’s child, except that the petitioner in a second parent adoption is not married to the child’s legal parent.  Second parent adoptions were most closely associated with same-sex partners as, until recently, same-sex marriages were not permitted or recognized in Florida and around the country.

Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svgSecond parent adoption was the only method available (where it was permitted) for many LGBT individuals to gain legal recognition as a second parent to a child.

In the case, V.L. v. E.L., 577 U.S. ___ (2016), two women, E.L. and V.L.  were in a relationship from 1995 until 2011.  About seven years into the relationship, E.L. became pregnant via assisted reproductive technology and gave birth to a child (and a couple of years later, to twins).  The women raised the children as co-parents.

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Florida Encourages Out-of-Court Dispute Resolution

The following is part of an appellate brief that I wrote which outlines how the Florida legislature, the Florida Supreme Court, and the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Tampa encourages the settlement of disputes, especially in family law matters:

Florida strongly encourages out-of court settlement of disputes. See Fla. Stat. § 61.001(2)(b)-(c) (the purposes of Chapter 61, among other things, are “(b) To promote the amicable settlement of disputes that arise between parties to a marriage; and (c) To mitigate the potential harm to the spouses and their children caused by the process of legal dissolution of marriage.”); In re Report of the Family Law Steering Committee, 794 So. 2d 518, 522-523 (Fla. 2001); see, also, Robbie v. City of Miami, 469 So. 2d 1384, 1385 (Fla. 1985) (“[s]ettlements are highly favored and will be enforced whenever possible.”).

In re Report finds, in part, the following:

The Florida Supreme Court should adopt the following guiding principles as a foundation for defining and implementing a model family court:

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3. All persons, whether children or adults, should be treated with objectivity, sensitivity, dignity, and respect.

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Florida Same-Sex Marriage – Will I Be On My Child’s Birth Certificate?

It has long been the law in Florida that when a child is born during an intact marriage between a man and a woman, the husband shall be placed on the birth certificate.  Generally, this is the case even if the husband is not the biological father of the child; the right of the child to be considered “legitimate” is so strong that it does not matter whether there is an actual genetic connection between the child and the father.

Now that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge and marriage licenses are being provided to same-sex couples, will a hospital put a woman on a birth certificate if her wife gives birth?

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Can I Now Divorce My Same-Sex Spouse in Florida?

Last week, Federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle clarified his ruling in Brenner v. Scott to state, definitively, that the U.S. Constitution requires Florida clerks of court to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This has brought great jubilation that marriage equality is finally recognized in Florida.  Clerks throughout the state (including in my own Hillsborough County) have begun issuing marriage licenses, and some even have officiated over marriages.

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank Officiates Over a Mass Same-Sex Wedding

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank Officiates Over a Mass Same-Sex Wedding

However, is same-sex marriage yet completely equal in Florida?  Is it recognized for all purposes in Florida, including for purposes of dissolving that marriage?

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Florida Same-Sex Annulment

As Florida does not currently recognize same-sex marriages, some judges have interpreted the state’s ban as precluding them from granting same-sex divorces.  I am involved in a case in which two women married in Massachusetts, moved to Florida, and separated.  They utilized the interdisciplinary collaborative process to come to a full settlement agreement and filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in Tampa.  The judge ultimately denied their petition, determining that she did not have jurisdiction to dissolve that which the state does not recognize.

And we appealed.  This has become the first divorce matter in Florida to challenge Article I, Section 27 of the Florida Constitution banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

In the meantime, the gay marriage ban is still in effect.  So is there anything that same-sex spouses can do to legally end their marriage in Florida?

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Tampa Same Sex Divorce Appeal: Text of Answer Brief

We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe – some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others – some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.  That institution … is a court.  It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest [lower] court in the land. . . . Our courts have their faults, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird, pg. 274 (1960).  Mockingbird is a timeless novel set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930’s.  Discrimination was the norm and “separate but equal” ruled the day.  Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).  The words are from a different time, yet they apply directly to the laws being challenged in this Court.

You can find the answer brief in the Tampa same sex divorce appeal at the following link: 2D14-2384 Shaw Appellee’s Answer Brief.

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Will a Florida Judge Order a Doggy Custody Schedule?

When two people are getting divorced in Florida, and they have one or more minor children, a custody schedule (now known in Florida as a time-sharing schedule)  must be established.  Approximately 90-95% of all cases settle at some point (whether it is before the filing of a petition for divorce or after spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for or even going through trial), and so the parties generally end up agreeing to a child time-sharing schedule.  But in those times where they do not agree, a Florida family law judge will take the decision out of the hands of the parents and set a time-sharing schedule.

But divorce doesn’t only affect the children.  It also affects the family pets.  So will a Florida judge order a doggy (or kitty) custody schedule?

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Attorney General Seeks to Prevent Tampa Same Sex Spouses’ Divorce

Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi has filed a motion to intervene in my client’s same sex divorce matter.  The parties married in Massachusetts, moved to Florida, came to a full settlement agreement via the Collaborative Divorce Process, and asked a Hillsborough Judge to dissolve their marriage.  Their request was denied and their case dismissed.  The case is now in the Second District Court of Appeals.

The Tampa Tribune has reported the development as follows:

Attorney General Pam Bondi may be fighting to prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Florida, but she is also taking a legal position that has the effect of forcing gay couples who married elsewhere to stay married, lawyers in a Tampa case say.

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