A same-sex Tampa Bay couple is fighting for the right to divorce after being told they are unable to legally separate in the state of Florida. Mariama Changamire Shaw and her spouse, Keiba Lynn Shaw, married four years ago in Sunderland, Massachusetts, but have lived in Florida since 2011.
Although same-sex couples have been granted the opportunity for legal union by 17 U.S. states, those same couples are denied marital rights – including the option to divorce – if they move to a state that does not recognize gay marriage (such as Florida).
Changamire Shaw recently contacted the Sunderland courthouse to ask if she could file for divorce in Massachusetts despite having moved to Florida, but she was denied based on residency requirements. They can obtain a divorce in Massachusetts if they relocate to the state for a year, but moving is not a viable option for either woman. Left with no alternative, Changamire Shaw filed for divorce in Florida’s Hillsborough County on January 15th, 2014.
Last week, Changamire Shaw’s attorneys notified Attorney General Pam Bondi that the separated couple has a signed marital settlement agreement and intends to challenge Florida’s same-sex marriage ban. The couple was scheduled to attend a divorce hearing on Thursday, but received a notice from Circuit Judge Laurel M. Lee earlier this week switching the hearing to a status conference.
Changamire Shaw’s attorneys suspect the judge will reject their divorce request. However, they plan to argue that the divorce would not violate the marriage ban, as well as advocate that the marriage ban violates the equal protection clause of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions.
One Tampa Bay attorney sees the situation as a “catch-22” for Judge Lee. Attorney Donna C. Baccarella (JD) told Divorce Magazine that the divorce might not violate Florida’s same-sex marriage ban, “since it eradicates the marriage.” However, the question remains: “Is a Florida court’s termination of another state’s same-sex marriage an acknowledgement and confirmation of the validity of that marriage and therefore contrary to Florida law?”
Although theirs is the first case to challenge Florida’s same-sex marriage ban, Changamire Shaw and her wife are not the first same-sex couple to file for divorce in the state. There have reportedly been multiple same-sex divorces “without any publicity” that did not challenge the ban.
“Regardless of what your personal opinion is on gay marriages, Pandora’s Box has been opened,” said Roderick C. Moe (CPA®, CVA, Cr. FA, ABV), a Florida accountant specializing in divorce issues. “The issue of gay divorce must be addressed by lawmakers in order to preserve order and protect the legal rights of the parties and any children.”