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BREAKING NEWS – Florida Judge Permits Same Sex Marriage Licenses in Florida Keys

Yet another judge has declared a ban on same sex marriages to be unconstitutional, and this one occurred right here in Florida.  The Honorable Luis M. Garcia found the law preventing the Clerk of Monroe County from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples invokes a fundamental right and has no rational basis and, accordingly,  violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The order reads, in part, as follows:

Due Process Clause

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There is no dispute by the parties that the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.  The parting-of-the-ways occurs on whether the right to marry belongs to the individual and that individual’s choice of spouse or whether the state has the authority to dictate one’s choice in spouse to the opposite sex.

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This court concludes that a citizen’s right to marry is a fundamental right that belongs to the individual.  The right these plaintiffs seek is not a new right, but a right that these individuals have always been guaranteed by the United States Constitution.  Societal norms and traditions have kept same-sex couples from marrying, like it kept women from voting until 1920 and forbid interracial marriage until 1967.

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“Next Generation Divorce” Takes On A New Meaning At St. Pete Pride

Last Sunday, I met a lot of people who had a lot of questions regarding their parental and family law rights.  My law firm sponsored a booth at the St. Pete Pride festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I discussed topics such as adoptions, name changes, and LGBT child custody rights.  I also had the chance to talk about collaborative family law, a private form of dispute resolution which I have used to help same sex partners amicably separate.

20140706-153645-56205458.jpgAt the pride festival, I was wearing a metal name tag that I received from my collaborative family law practice group, Next Generation Divorce.  Next Generation Divorce is comprised of over 100 caring attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals dedicated to helping parents and divorcing spouses handle difficult issues amicably and with their dignity intact.  I happen to be Next Generation Divorce’s current president and, needless to say, I strongly support the organization’s drive to help folks resolve disputes respectfully through the collaborative process.

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Texas Judge Rules Denial of Same Sex Divorce Unconstitutional

In a case with many similarities to the Florida same sex divorce matter being deliberated here in Tampa, a district judge in Texas has ruled that, despite that state’s same sex marriage ban, two women should be permitted to divorce.  In fact, according to the Daily Kos, the Texas judge ruled that their Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and so this divorce case should proceed like any other divorce:

Judge Barbara Nellermoe, in a five-page ruling released Tuesday, pinpointed three portions of the Texas Family Code as unconstitutional, as well as Section 32 of the Texas Constitution. Nellermoe wrote that “in a well-reasoned opinion by Judge Orlando Garcia, the federal district court found that a state cannot do what the federal government cannot – that is, it cannot discriminate against same-sex couples.”

The trial judge found that the state had no rational basis to deny recognition of same sex married couples.  Judge Nellermoe also found that “Texas’ denial of recognition of the parties’ out-of-state same-sex marriage violates equal protection and due process rights when Texas does afford full faith and credit to opposite-sex marriages celebrated in other states.”

According to the Austin Statesman, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot subsequently responded by asking the 4th Court of Appeals to stay, or pause, Judge Nellermoe’s proceedings, and the appellate court granted that request.  This does not mean that the appellate court will reverse Judge Nellermoe’s ruling; it just means that it will hear arguments, set for May 5, and make a determination later.

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Florida Same Sex Relationships: Do I Need To Adopt My Child?

In general, when a baby is born in an intact marriage, that baby is considered the legal child of both spouses.  Similarly, when a married person adopts a child, that child is oftentimes considered the legal child of that married person and his or her spouse.

But what is the status of a child in Florida born of or adopted into a same sex marriage?  In other words, if two men or two women are married in another state, move to Florida, and have a baby, is that baby considered the legal child of both spouses?

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Federal Government to Recognize Same Sex Marriages Performed in Utah

For 17 days, same sex marriages were legally performed in Utah.  On December 20, 2013, a federal district court struck down Utah’s Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) which, similarly to Florida’s DOMA, recognizes marriage as only between one man and one woman.  Over 1300 Utah gay and lesbian couples took advantage of their newly recognized right to marry when, on January 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to pause marriage equality in Utah pending appeal.

Related:  Five Legal Steps Florida LGBT Parents Should Take

Despite the legal seesaw regarding the status of same sex marriage in Utah, the Washington Post cites U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as stating that those couples who were married during that 17 day period would be recognized by the federal government and receive federal marriage benefits.

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Private Child Custody Proceedings: Florida Collaborative Practice

When people are seeking to gain child custody rights in Florida – whether through divorce, paternity, establishment of parenting plan, grandparent custody, or other proceedings – the first step they usually take is file a petition with the Clerk of the Court.

Generally speaking, this is a mistake.

By filing a petition, they are entering into the public court system which pits mother against father.  This is an adversarial system which oftentimes leads parties to engage in emotionally and financially draining court battles, and all dirty laundry gets examined and aired.

But there is another way, a private way of determining parental responsibility and child time-sharing schedules.  It is called collaborative practice, also known as collaborative family law.

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Florida Supreme Court Rules Lesbian Egg Donor Has Right to Partner’s Child

In a landmark decision in the matter of D.M.T. v. T.M.H., the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a woman who donated her fertilized egg to her partner, who in turn gave birth to a child, has a right to parent the child.

Last year I summarized the facts of this case when it was going through the Fifth District Court of Appeals of Florida:

Two women are in a committed lesbian relationship when they decide to have a child together using reproductive technologies.  One woman (the “Genetic Mother”) supplies the egg and has it fertilized.  That egg is then implanted into her partner (the “Birth Mother”) who gives birth in 2004.

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Can Florida Same Sex Partners Now Get Federal Marriage Benefits?

In yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court Opinion striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), Justice Anthony Kennedy outlined some of the federal marriage benefits that DOMA affected:

By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound.  It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive…It deprives them of the Bankruptcy Code’s special protections for domestic-support obligations…It forces them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly…It prohibits them from being buried together in veteran’s cemeteries.

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DOMA also brings financial harm to children of same-sex couples.  It raises the cost of health care for families by taxing health benefits provided by employers to their workers’ same-sex spouses…And it denies or reduces benefits allowed to families upon the loss of a spouse and parent, benefits that are an integral part of a family security.

U.S. v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (2013). 

So, now that portions of DOMA have been overturned, are Florida same sex couples eligible for federal marriage benefits?

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Five Legal Steps Florida LGBT Parents Should Take

The unfortunate truth is that current Florida law is not conducive to recognizing the relationships that develop in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families.  However, there are steps that Florida and Tampa Bay LGBT parents can take to boost the recognition of their parental rights.

Adoption

If LGBT parents are committed to raising a child together and recognizing each parent’s rights, I highly recommend that partners consider adopting each other’s children.  This helps form an unbreakable legal bond between the children and each partner.  Though the law is not completely settled in this area, the judges in Hillsborough County (including Tampa) are granting adoptions by LGBT partners.  What’s more, an adoption attorney located in Hillsborough County (such as myself) can help Florida parents come before Hillsborough County judges no matter where in Florida the parents live.

Co-Parenting Agreements

Co-parenting agreements can be great evidence that LGBT partners intend to parent children together.  It can boost the argument that “psychological parenting,” or the formation of a parent-like relationship between a child and a non-legal parent, has occurred and make it or more likely that parental rights will be recognized by Florida’s legal system.

Hyphenated or Unified Last Names

A hyphenated or unified last name can go a long way in demonstrating to the Florida legal system that partners intended to raise children together.  For example, if partner 1 is named Jones, and partner 2 is named Smith, it would be helpful to have all partners and children’s last names hyphenated or unified, so that everyone has a last name of Jones-Smith, Smith-Jones, Smones, Jith, etc.  Florida has laws to aid in legal name changes.

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Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the rights of lesbian and gay individuals to marry partners of the same sex, and Florida’s laws may be affected.  Currently, same sex partners are not only prohibited from entering into marriage in Florida,  but Florida law also prohibits the recognition of same sex marriages that were validly sanctioned in any other state or nation.

Related:  Five Legal Steps Florida LGBT Parents Should Take

Florida has a version of the Defense of Marriage Act (section 741.212, Florida Statutes), which reads as follows:

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