Florida Court of Appeals holds that Florida must honor second-parent adoptions by same-sex couples

The Florida Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower court ruling and held that Florida must give full faith and credit to adoptions granted to same-sex couples by other states, holding that Lara Embry, the plaintiff in the case, “must be given the same rights as any other adoptive parent in Florida.” The court based its decision on the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the federal constitution and a Florida statute requiring Florida to honor adoption decrees from other states. Noting that “there are no public policy exceptions to the full faith and credit which is due to judgments entered in another state,” the court concluded that “regardless of whether the trial court believed that the Washington adoption violated a clearly established public policy in Florida, it was improper for the trial court to refuse to give the Washington judgment full faith and credit.” A concurring opinion further noted that Embry’s “same-sex relationship with [the other parent] is irrelevant for the purpose of enforcing her rights and obligations as an adoptive parent.”

The case arose when Lara Embry filed a petition seeking shared custody of a child she had raised with her former partner, Kimberly Ryan. The couple had two children together. Each gave birth to one child, and each adopted her non-biological child through a second-parent adoption in the state of Washington, where the family lived. The couple moved to Florida, and their relationship ended several years later. They agreed to share custody of both children and did so successfully until Ryan unilaterally decided to separate the children, who are deeply bonded as siblings, and cut off all contact between Embry and one of the children.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Leslie Talbot, of Leslie M . Talbot, P.A., represented Lara in her initial suit for shared custody. In February 2008, a Florida trial court held that Florida would not recognize the couple’s second-parent adoption. NCLR, Karen Doering, and the law firm of Carlton Fields represented Lara in the appeal. Former Judge John R. Blue and Cristina Alonso, attorneys with Carlton Fields briefed and argued the case before the Second District Court of Appeal on March 18, 2009.

“We are pleased this decision resolved an important constitutional issue and protected the legal bond between adoptive parents and their children,” said Blue. “The court affirmed the longstanding rule that Florida must honor valid adoptions from other states, which ensures the permanence and stability of parent-child relationships across state lines.”

Friend-of-the- court briefs supporting Embry and urging the court to clarify Florida’s obligation to honor second-parent adoptions from other states were submitted by the Center for Adoption Policy, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy, the University of Florida Center on Children and Families, the University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Clinic, and Professors Mark Brown, Joan Hollinger, Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, Erwin Chemerinsky, Sharon Rush, and Robert Schapiro.

The case is Lara Embry v. Kimbery Ryan, No. 2D08-1323, (Fla. 2d=2 0DCA May 13, 2009) .

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