Position Statement – 2023
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) opposes the passage of FL S.254, signed into law on May 17, 2023, which purports to grant Florida courts temporary emergency jurisdiction over transgender children and allow Florida courts to ignore other court orders and custody determinations. Additionally, given WBASNY’s reading of the law, WBASNY warns New York residents in custody disputes to seek counsel as it could impact their parental and custodial rights.
In addition to provisions regarding licensing of entities that provide surgical procedures and medications to transgender children, the law treats children having such treatments as if they require protection from mistreatment or abuse. Florida grants emergency jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) to protect the child if the child is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse or is at risk of or is being subjected to the provisions of sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures. The law would seem to allow the subject child and the child’s siblings to be lawfully moved to Florida to “escape” sex reassignment prescriptions and procedures. Florida would issue new, ex parte Custody Orders which could even include stay away provisions on behalf of the subject child and other siblings. Moreover, the law allows Florida courts to “vacate, stay or modify” Custody Orders of other jurisdictions to protect the child from the sex-reassignment prescriptions and procedures.
Forty-nine states (including Florida in 2022) and some territories have adopted the UCCJEA. This legislation is attempting to wrongfully usurp the UCCJEA’s power to delineate which acts constitute behavior which would trigger emergency jurisdiction and when Florida can vacate, stay or modify custody orders of other states.
The law requires merely that the child “be present in the State of Florida.” This means a child could be on vacation, sent to visit a non-custodial parent or in the extreme, a parent could remove a trans child from the home state and flee to Florida, and the State would have the right to “emergency jurisdiction.” In fact, the bill specifically states that the Court is PROHIBITED from determining that the child’s removal was unjustified. In other words, this law basically creates a ‘safe haven’ for parents to abduct children from the legal parent.
Additionally, the law grants Florida courts permission to ignore another state’s order – even where validly issued. In essence, a Florida court is allowed to deem prior orders meaningless as long as the child is undergoing sex reassignment treatment. The law also creates problems for both custodial and non-custodial parents. A custodial parent who sends a transgender child to visit a non-custodial parent in Florida risks having the child seized by the authorities and taken into the custody of the State. Non-custodial parents who live in Florida are also likely to face visitation denial for this reason, and the courts in the state where the custodial parent lives are unlikely to sanction a parent who refuses to send a child for visitation under those circumstances.