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V.L. v. E. L.

The Supreme Court of the United States issued a per curiam opinion on March 7, 2016, tangentially related to family law, but mostly related to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution.  The Full Faith and Credit Clause requires states to acknowledge, enforce, and abide by orders of sibling states.   This rule is almost absolute, with the caveat that if a reviewing court determines that the issuing court did not have jurisdiction to issue the order, the reviewing court may refuse to honor it.  This is a high bar to overcome – which the Supreme Court just explained to Alabama.

In V.L. v. E.L. et al. two women who had raised children together participated in a second parent adoption in Georgia, wherein V.L. adopted the children with E.L.’s consent.  E.L. continued to be a legal parent of the children as well.  When things went south (pun intended) they were living in Alabama.  V.L. petitioned the Alabama court to recognize the adoption order from Georgia, and to grant her parental rights to the children.  The Alabama courts ruled against her.  They looked to Georgia law and said the adoption was not proper there, and thus, they would not recognize it.

The Supreme Court held that even if the Georgia order was wrong, that question was not before the Alabama court in deciding whether to give full faith and credit.  All the Alabama court could do was look at whether Georgia had jurisdiction to decide the case.  And Georgia did have jurisdiction to decide adoptions in Georgia.  Whether the decision was right or wrong was not for Alabama to decide; Georgia had already decided, and Alabama was required to give that decision full faith and credit.

The decision came down per curiam, which means all the justices agreed and issued it as a united court – instead of from any individual author.

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