It is important that grandparents know their rights, especially if they live in another state.
One of the more complex aspects of law for a Florida family court occurs when they must consider whether it is legally permissible or required to enforce another state’s court order.
Grandparent rights are no exception to this rule, as evidenced by the recent Florida Supreme Court case of Ledoux-Nottingham v. Downs.
Background of the Ledoux-Nottingham Case
Ruth LeDoux-Nottingham was divorced from her husband in Colorado. After her ex-husband died, Ruth moved to Florida, taking her two minor children with her. Once she had moved with the children, the grandparents pursued the right to visitation by filing a lawsuit in Colorado.
Subsequently, Ruth responded by asking the Florida court to decide that the grandparents were not entitled to any legal time-sharing rights. However, at the time Ruth made this request of the Florida court, a Colorado court had already decided it was in the best interests of the children if the grandparents had visitation rights.
The mother responded to the Colorado court’s decision by amending her original petition, relying on Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution. This section provides that “every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life.” In essence, the mother was claiming that enforcing Colorado’s order of grandparent visitation violated the state’s constitution and public policy goals because it violated a Florida parents autonomy to raise the child in the way they see fit.
The trial court disagreed, siding with the grandparents by choosing to enforce the Colorado order. The mother appealed this decision to the Fifth District, which affirmed the trial court’s decision by leaning on the reasoning of the Fifth District case of Bellow v. Bellow, 736 So. 2d 759 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999). The Fifth Circuit held that Colorado’s order was entitled to “full faith and credit”, in spite of the fact that it may violate Florida’s public policy. The Full Faith and Credit Clause — Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution — relates to the duty of states to respect the judicial proceedings of every other state.
The Florida Supreme Court then decided to review the Fifth District’s decision, in order to conclusively determine whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution overrides the public policy goals of Florida’s constitution.
The Florida Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth District decision, holding that the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires Florida to enforce the Colorado order, even though a similar entry by a Florida court would have been prohibited by the Florida Constitution.
In short, Florida courts would not have granted the grandparents visitation rights. But, since Colorado has different laws and appropriately ordered grandparent visitation based on their state law, the Florida courts needed to honor those judicial proceedings.
The takeaway, then, is that Florida family law cases may not hinge solely on the laws of Florida. When another state’s proceedings lead to a lawful order on child custody, visitation or grandparent rights, Florida will adhere to the U.S. Constitution and give those orders the “full faith and credit” they deserve.
If you have questions regarding military divorce, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]