United States Supreme Court Summarily Reverses Alabama Judgment On Out of State Same-Sex Adoption

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On March 7, 2016, the United States Supreme Court unanimously and summarily reversed the Alabama Supreme Court on a same-sex adoption issue.
In the case, V.L. v. E.L., the parties were two women who were in a relationship from approximately 1995 until 2011. In 2002, E.L. gave birth to a child and in 2004, gave birth to twins. After the children were born, the parties raised them together as joint parents. All three children were adopted pursuant to a final decree of adoption from a superior court in Georgia. E.L. consented to V.L.’s adoption as a second parent and recognized both of the parties as the legal parents of the children. Afterwards, the parties moved to Alabama, where their relationship ended in 2011. V.L. moved out of the house that the couple had shared and filed a petition in Alabama registering the Georgia judgment. The Alabama trial court thereafter awarded V.L. visitation. E.L. appealed.

Eventually the case made it to the Alabama Supreme Court. The question before the Court involved the Full Faith and Credit clause of the United States constitution, which requires that each state respect, among other things, judicial decisions from other states unless the state that made the first order was without jurisdiction to hear the case. The Alabama Supreme Court held that the Georgia court did not have jurisdiction under its own state laws to approve V.L.’s adoption of the children because one Georgia statute in particular ostensibly requires that a third party can only adopt a child with a living parent if that living parent surrenders their parenting rights. Since E.L. never surrendered her parenting rights of the children, the Alabama Supreme Court reasoned that the Georgia court was without jurisdiction to make the adoption. Therefore, Alabama was not required to give credence to the order.

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The Supreme Court of the United States disagreed, finding that since that Georgia law specifically provides that superior courts “have exclusive jurisdiction in all matters of adoption” it doesn’t matter if the superior court erred on a particular adoption because it still had fundamental jurisdiction to make the adoption. Therefore, the Full Faith and Credit clause applied and Alabama was required to give deference to the Georgia judgment.

Although the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision was made on technical grounds, the current makeup of the Court is infamous for its opposition to same-sex marriage, even after the United States Supreme Court struck down all same-sex marriage bans.

Also of note: the United States Supreme Court issued this opinion, per curiam. In contrast to regular opinions, per curiam opinions do not list any one judge as an author and are routinely issued without full briefing or oral argument. Since there was no dissenting or concurring decision, the decision in this case was unanimous.

The opinion in V.L. v. E.L. can be viewed HERE.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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