Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a decision Friday cementing the right of same-sex couples to get divorced, the first ruling of its kind that binds judges across the state.
It would seem logical that when same-sex couples won the right to get married in Florida, divorce would follow. And in most instances, unhappy couples have been able to get their unions dissolved.
But whether a court accepted such petitions still was up to the judge assigned to a case, as the legal justification for dissolving gay unions remained a subject of debate, opposed by the state.
"This decision is important because it makes it clear that same-sex couples are entitled to get divorced," said Ellen Ware, a Tampa attorney representing a woman who, in a separate case, has been trying to get a divorce from her wife for over a year. "I'm thrilled my client can get divorced," she said.
The divorce in this case was requested by Danielle Brandon-Thomas, who married Krista Brandon-Thomas in Massachusetts in 2012. After the couple moved to Florida with their child — who was born while they were married, but was legally and biologically Krista's — their relationship soured.
Danielle filed for divorce, which Krista fought, using Florida's gay-marriage ban to argue that because the state didn't recognize their marriage, no court could grant them a divorce.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi intervened in the case, taking Krista's side, and a Lee County judge refused to divorce the couple.
In its ruling on Friday, the appellate court reversed this decision, writing that the state had shown "no legitimate government interest" in preventing gay couples from getting divorced.
"Our decision today protects the parties' rights of access to the court for dissolution of their marriage and an opportunity to be heard regarding their claimed rights to their assets and the child," the three-judge panel wrote.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.