In 2010, Keiba Lynn Shaw and Mariama Changamire Shaw married in Massachusetts, where their same-sex marriage was valid and lawful. The next year, the couple moved to Tampa, Florida and they separated in October of 2013.
In order to file for divorce in a state, one or both spouses must live within that state for a certain period of time, which is one year in Massachusetts. Neither spouse in the Shaw marriage was able to move back to Massachusetts for a year, so they would be unable to seek a divorce in that state.
For this reason, the couple decided to seek a divorce in Florida instead. They came to a divorce settlement agreement through a collaborative divorce process, and all they needed was for a judge to sign off on the agreement.
Florida's Same-Sex Marriage Laws
In 2008, Florida amended its state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage within the state. The amendment states that no union will be valid or recognized as a marriage unless it is between one woman and one man. Therefore, even though the Shaws' marriage was valid in Massachusetts, Florida courts will not recognize that the couple is married at all. Because there is no valid marriage, the court reasoned that no divorce could be granted. The family court judge dismissed their petition for divorce earlier in May. Many people are criticizing the denial of same-sex divorces in Florida, suggesting that it may deter same-sex married couples from moving to our state for fear they will not be able to end their marriage if they choose.
Mariama Changamire Shaw plans to appeal the decision, and hers would be the first divorce case to challenge the marriage ban in Florida. Similar challenges took place in Wyoming and Missouri, both in which same-sex couples did not wish to marry, but to instead end their marriage. Both states ended up granting the divorces while keeping their respective marriage bans intact. The ultimate decision in this case could have a significant effect on thousands of couples who may wish to divorce in Florida.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has also filed lawsuits on behalf of several same-sex couples seeking to have Florida recognize their marriages, though these couples are not seeking divorces. With all of the upcoming challenges to the same-sex marriage ban, and with the general trend toward acceptance of same-sex couples, we could be seeing the courts overturn the Constitutional amendment in the near future.
Contact a Florida Divorce Lawyer for Help
No two marriages are alike and, as a result, no two divorces are alike either. While some divorce cases are relatively straightforward and are quickly wrapped up, others may have complicated issues or unique questions of law. For this reason, it is always highly important to have a skilled family law attorney who can handle any issues that may arise. If you are facing a divorce in the Ft. Lauderdale or Boca Raton areas, experienced family law attorney Alan Burton can help you with every aspect of your case. Contact our office today for assistance.