Bill prohibits foreign family law in state courts
The state's courts would be limited in recognizing rulings and agreements out of foreign courts pertaining to divorce, alimony, child support or child custody under a bill passed by the House.
The disputed measure, which passed with a vote of 78-40 on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature, passed amid the protests of a number of Democrats who accused promoters of the bill of creating a "solution in search of a problem."
The bill integrates prior case law into the state's statutes, which supporters contend would lessen the length of times a case with a foreign law element may take to wind through the courts.
"This only simplifies current law," said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland. "You can go to one statute and find the answer to a (legal) question. Right now you have to search through cases and have a lawyer synthesize that, and articulate that to a judge."
The bill, foes said, is not as drastic in its anti-foreign language and intent as it was in its original form, "but it is a waste of time," said Ghazala Salam, community and government relations director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "And it makes Florida look like a xenophobic state."
Added Rep. JosÃ© Javier RodrÃguez, D-Miami, "We're not addressing anything that's a real, actual problem. It still has yet to be presented to us where foreign law has been used in the U.S. to deny someone of their constitutional rights."
The new law would integrate recent court rulings regarding family law cases and contracts from other countries, which courts can already consider when ruling in such cases.
The bill is largely a product of the International Law Section of the Florida Bar, which had previously opposed the action.
"Nothing has really changed," regarding existing law, said Eduardo Palmer, a member of the bar section who helped draft the bill. The bill, he said, is a move to ensure the state's courts can easily rely on statute, if the bill is signed.
The original version of the bill, he said, was restrictive and sought to bind courts to only adhering to U.S. law regardless of circumstance.
The law comes into play in specified cases of family law, Palmer said. For example, an Argentinean couple may have signed a prenuptial agreement in their native country and moved to Florida.
"The judge can look at the agreement and unless it violates public policy, he can rule based on that agreement," Palmer said.
An early detractor of the bill, the Anti-Defamation League, dropped its opposition in light of the recent revision but stopped short of support, said David Barkey Anti-Defamation League's Southeastern area counsel.
"It's a bad idea when you are trying to promote the state as in international destination for business or for people to have a law like this," Barkey said. "We're going to ask the governor to veto this."
The bill addresses only family law cases and agreements and does not extend to business or commerce.
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