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“Wed-locked” - Florida Judge Refuses to Grant Uncontested Same Sex Divorce

Mariama Shaw wants out of her marriage, but the state of Florida has refused to grant her a divorce. Mariama Monique Changamire Shaw and Keiba Lynn Shaw have become “wed-locked,” an increasingly common problem for same sex couples living in states that do not recognize same sex marriage.

The Journey to “Wed-lock”

Mariama Shaw’s journey begin in 2010, when she and her partner tied the knot while living in Massachusetts, where same sex marriage has been legalized since 2004. The happy couple moved to Florida where they resided for four years. As the years wore on, however, like so many couples, Mariama Shaw’s marriage fell apart. Both partners now want out of the marriage. If Mariama was married to a man, she would likely have obtained a relatively simple, inexpensive, and quick uncontested divorce. Instead, because Florida does not recognize same sex marriages, Mariama Shaw and her partner are facing an uphill battle.

The Divorce Petition

Mariama and Keiba Shaw, who reside in Tampa, initially filed for divorce in Hillsborough County in January. In March, attorneys in the case attempted to hold an uncontested divorce hearing and file the couple’s divorce settlement agreement. Circuit Judge Laurel M. Lee heard arguments on April 22 but postponed ruling. She expressed concern over the fact that Florida does not recognize the marriage.

Dismissal of the Action

Judge Lee later issued a ruling in the case, holding that she could not grant the divorce. The judge cited to Florida’s 2008 constitutional amendment, which provides that marriage is a legal union of only one man and one woman, and no other union that is treated as a marriage shall be recognized.

The Battle Continues

Brett Rahall, attorney for Mariama Shaw, has stated his client will appeal to the Second District Court of Appeal. This will be the first official challenge to the law. Rahall plans to argue that the divorce will not violate the marriage ban, since it eradicates instead of forms a union, and in the alternative that the marriage ban violates the equal protection clause of both the Florida and U.S. Constitutions.

The Shaw case will not be the first divorce to challenge a marriage ban across the U.S. In Wyoming, the Supreme Court made it legal for all couples to divorce in the state but kept its marriage ban in place. In Missouri, just weeks before Judge Lee’s ruling, a county judge granted a same sex divorce even though the state bans such unions.

For now, the Shaws are stuck in an unhappy marriage that they both wish to exit. Despite reaching a divorce settlement and preparing for a simple, uncontested divorce, the Shaws have become trapped in a legal battle. The Shaws cannot divorce in Florida, absent action by the higher courts, and they cannot divorce in Massachusetts because the state requires at least one year of residency. The Shaws have been forced to join the ranks of the “wed-locked,” an ever increasing number of same sex couples who have been denied a divorce in their state of residency. Few couples consider the potential issues surrounding a divorce when they enter into a blissful marriage, but for some, this inability to obtain an uncontested, easy divorce will cause much heartache.

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