According to recent census data and other studies, the number of children being raised by lesbian and gay parents is increasing rapidly. This increase is evidenced not only throughout the country, but at home in Florida as well. The conflicting laws of the various states as to the legal recognition of same-sex parenting rights present not only complications but is fraught with legal challenges.
A nagging question is what happens when same-sex parents become parents in one state, but then move to a state that does not provide the same protection to the parties parent-child relationships?
The 2009 Florida case Embry v. Ryan (11 So. 3d 408, Fla. 2nd DCA) examined this issue involving a same-sex couple who became parents while living in Washington State, and then moved to Florida. While living in Washington, one of the partners gave birth to a child. A few months later the other partner adopted the child. After moving to Florida, and 4 years after the birth of their daughter, the couple broke up. The former partners initially entered into an amicable visitation and custody agreement, which lasted for approximately 3 years. However, like many relationships, their relationship became strained. The birth mother then refused to let her former partner have any contact with the child. Litigation ensued.
The adoptive (non-birth) mom filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief and a petition to determine parental responsibility, contact and support. The birth mom sought to dismiss the petition arguing that Florida was not required to give “full faith and credit” to the Washington state adoption as it was contrary to Florida public policy which prohibited same-sex couple adoptions.
The United States Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause provides that states give effect to judgments from sister states. The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that a “final judgment in one State, if rendered by a court with adjudicatory authority over the subject matter and persons governed by the judgment qualifies for recognition throughout the land.”
The Court further stated that there are no public policy exceptions to the full faith and credit clause which is due to judgments entered in another state.
The Florida Court of Appeals in the Embry case held that “regardless of whether the trial court believed that the Washington adoption violated a clearly established public policy in Florida, it was improper for the trial court to refuse to give the Washington judgment full faith and credit.
The Florida court declared that the same-sex relationship was irrelevant for the purpose of enforcing the adoptive mother’s rights and obligations as an adoptive parent. Florida law specifically states that adoption decrees from other states must be recognized as though the judgment was issued by a court of this state. There is no exception for gay second-parent adoption built into this Florida provision.
If you have any questions about your legal rights concerning gay, lesbian or same-sex partner adoption in the State of Florida, contact a Jacksonville gay and lesbian estate planning lawyer.