Divorce and religion: Who gets to decide?

BibleDuring a marriage many parents often agree to raise their children in a single religion, or they may agree to teach their children about both parents’ religion in a positive manner. But what happens if the couple divorces?

There have been a number of rulings on the issue as courts must not only decide what’s in the best interest of the child, but also must taken into consideration the parents’ First Amendment Right to freedom of religion. When making such a decision the courts have to strike a balance between these two interests.

The First District Court of Appeal recently addressed the matter in Pierson v. Pierson. During the marriage the couple had three children, all of whom were raised in the mother’s religion of Catholicism. After the couple separated, the father became a Jehovah’s Witness.

During the hearing on the mother’s petition for divorce, the director of family ministries at the mother’s church testified that the couple’s oldest son had told his Sunday School teachers and other students during one class that the music they were listening to was wrong, that priests were bad, the Bible they were using was wrong and that there was no Heaven.

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Court says no to permanent alimony despite long-term marriage

Gavel 2Florida's appellate courts have been making some noteworthy rulings on alimony, child relocation and due process.

In Fichtel v. Fichtel, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling that despite the fact the parties had been in a long-term marriage (19 years), she was not entitled to permanent alimony and the trial court was correct to award her durational alimony. However, the court did note that the lower court failed to make “specific findings of fact” to support its decision that the ex-husband was responsible for just 50 percent of the former wife’s attorneys fees.

“While the trial court may have had a legitimate rationale in mind for the fifty percent attorney’s fee award, it did not address the substantial disparity between the parties’ incomes or provide specific factual findings justifying the amount of the award,” the court noted.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s fee order with directions to reconsider fees and make findings of fact sufficient to permit review of the ruling.

In Rolison v. Rolison, the First District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling that found Florida’s relocation statute did not apply in this case because the mother moved to another state before the child’s father filed for dissolution of marriage.

Read more: Court says no to permanent alimony despite long-term marriage

Gay marriage ban expected to go to Fla. Supreme Court

Gay marriage couplesThe Daily Business Review recently reported that the race is on to challenge Florida's gay marriage ban in the state's highest court. Given a series of recent court rulings that favor same sex marriage (and divorce), it's likely such a challenge will happen soon.

The DBR article, in which I am quoted, points to several cases currently before the courts. There's one before the Fourth District Court of Appeal filed in May by a Florida Atlantic University student to recognize his same-sex marriage. He argues that FAU denied him in-state tuition as the spouse of a longtime Florida resident because the university doesn't recognize their marriage.

I have previously addressed some of the other cases mentioned in the DBR article, including two recent cases out of Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, that challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

As I told the DBR, there are several good reasons to resolve this issue quickly. Because the law in Florida is unclear, a lot of attorneys are unclear on how to advise clients who want to get married or divorced.

Click here to read the entire article.



Same-sex marriage, divorce issues wind through courts

gay marriage, same sex marriage, divorceIn the past few weeks there’s been a lot of movement on the same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce front in Florida.

On July 17, a Monroe County judge overturned Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage. That ruling was immediately stayed when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an appeal. A little more than a week later, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge granted summary judgment in favor of six same-sex couples. Judge Sarah Zabel then stayed her own ruling recognizing it too would be appealed.

Since then, attorneys for the Monroe County couple who won the right to marry have asked an appeals court to move the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court nothing that the issue is “of great public importance” and has a “great effect on the proper administration of justice throughout the state.”

A decision by the state’s highest court likely would provide judges throughout Florida with guidance in how to rule on similar cases as they come up.

Meantime, on July 25, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar announced that it had received approval from the Florida Bar to join in an amicus brief in the appeal of a Hillsborough County Circuit court ruling in Shaw v. Shaw involving an attempted divorce of a same-sex couple who legally married in Massachusetts, but now live in Florida.

In the Shaw case, the trial judge would not enter a divorce decree for the couple because Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages.

I recently told Law360: “I am hopeful that the Family Law Section’s amicus brief will assist the appellants in obtaining a successful ruling that will benefit many of Florida’s citizens. The effect of the ruling in the suit is to deny Florida residents access to the courts.”

Read more: Same-sex marriage, divorce issues wind through courts

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