On May 9, 2014, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Laurel Lee refused to grant a divorce to two women who wanted to incorporate a collaborative law agreement resolving all of their alimony and support issues. The two women were married in Massachusetts but lived in Florida. Judge Lee relied upon the amendment to the Florida Constitution passed in 2008, which stated that a marriage is a union of only one man and one woman, and the 1997 Florida Defense of Marriage Act, which stated that same sex marriages are not recognized for any purpose in Florida, even if the marriage is recognized in another jurisdiction. Since then, the two women have appealed Judge Lee’s dismissal of the petition for divorce.
Until a higher-level court changes Judge Lee’s ruling, same sex couples can’t get divorced in Hillsborough County. Legally, if a same-sex couple marries in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, it is important that this couple thoroughly investigates every benefit afforded heterosexual marries couple in order to see if they are entitled to the same benefits. In Florida, you will need to consult with a lawyer who is up to date on same-sex relationships in this state.
Same-sex couples married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages have certain federal rights that married spouses in Florida have. They are able to file joint federal tax returns and, for estate planning purposes, they can take advantage of the marital deduction, which can defer or eliminate transfer taxes until the surviving spouse dies. Federal civil service employees have access to many benefits, including health and life insurance, dental and vision insurance, long term care insurance, and Flexible Spending Accounts. Same-sex marriage partners can obtain social security spousal benefits if they reside in a state that recognizes samesex marriages. However, congressional action may be necessary to change this and provide that a spouse living in Florida can collect on the other spouse’s social security record. Veteran’s retirement benefits are also available.
Parentage of a child is still determined by Florida’s state laws. Will Florida enforce a support decree issued by a state that recognizes same-sex marriage and will enter divorce decrees? If Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act will not allow the state to give effect to a claim arising out of a same-sex marriage or relationship, it appears that Florida will not enforce any provisions of the divorce decree entered in a state that recognizes same sex marriages.