TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court has quashed the decision of a lower court in a case concerning whether a marriage can be voided, according to an Aug. 31 court opinion.
Glenda Martinez Smith petitioned the court after her marriage to J. Alan Smith was deemed invalid because of his incapacitated state.
Glenda Smith and Alan Smith were engaged in 2009, a year before he was in a car accident that left him with head trauma and partially incapacitated. When a Florida resident is described in this state, a guardianship has the authority to take some rights, including marriage. Still, there was a question of whether the couple needed to receive approval from the court before they tied the knot in 2011, even though they were engaged before he was deemed incapacitated.
John Cramer was given the guardianship title over Alan Smith’s affairs. Glenda Smith requested that Cramer petition the court for approval but he “refused,” according to court records.
Lynne Hennessey, Alan Smith’s court-appointed counsel then petitioned the court to annul the marriage in early 2013 under the notion that the court did not approve the marriage beforehand.
In the trial court, Glenda Smith moved to validate the marriage, and Hennessy motioned for summary judgment. A court denied her request and granted Hennessy’s.
Glenda Smith then appealed the judgment of annulment with the 4th District Court of Appeal, stating that Florida laws did not require approval of marriage before the actual ceremony but that it could be ratified afterward. She then referred to a case in 2012 that involved Alan Smith being moved to another living facility and said the court acknowledged her marriage at the hearing.
Still, the district court sided with the trial court that “the right to marry” is subject to court approval and that “if a person deemed incapacitated has had his or her right to contract removed, he or she has no right to marry unless the court gives its approval.”
It also stated that since the marriage was considered void in the 2012 hearing, the court’s recognition of the marriage was irrelevant.
Still, Judge Martha C. Warner of the 4th District Court of Appeal challenged the interpretation of some of the Florida statute. She wrote the law “does not state that marriage is prohibited unless approval is given prior to the marriage” and that “the right to marry was not removed from [Alan] at the time of the marriage ceremony.”
Warner added that she “would hold that the failure to obtain court approval prior to the marriage at most rendered the marriage voidable, not void, so that the court could approve the union post-marriage," according to court records.
Glenda Smith then submitted a motion to certify a question of public importance, and the court allowed it.
The state Supreme Court answered the question of whether the Florida statute requires approval from the court before marriage and whether sans the approval, a marriage is considered absolutely void. It also explored the other possibility of whether the marriage would be considered voidable leading to the court’s approval after parties exercise their right to marry.
The Supreme Court decided that a failure to seek court approval before exercising the right to marry “does not render the marriage void or voidable.”
It also decided that court approval is needed for those in Alan Smith’s case who have lost their right to marry. While it stated that “any marriage entered without court approval is invalid,” it pointed out that the law “does not prevent the ward or the intended spouse from seeking court approval after marrying in order to ratify the marriage.”
The Supreme Court quashed the 4th District Court of Appeal's ruling and remanded it to the lower court.