Full Faith and Credit Clause Definition

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 How is the Full Faith and Credit Clause Defined?

The Full Faith and Credit Clause is located in Article IV, Section of the United States Constitution. This clause was included by the original framers of the Constitution in order to assist in promoting the unification of the U.S.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause regulates how courts deal with other rulings from other jurisdictions and courts. This clause requires that certain matters in a state are honored in all other states in the United States, including:

  • Decisions;
  • Public records; and
  • Rulings.

In other words, every United States court is required to give full faith and credit to the decisions which are made by other courts. Without this clause, conflicts may arise between the states and the legal system would be overwhelmed with dealing with overlapping rulings.

What is the Purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause?

The purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause is to provide harmonious interactions between the numerous court systems which operate in the United States. In addition, it helps to reduce judicial waste as well as any unnecessary re-litigation of matters which have already been decided.

For example, if an individual’s case was adjudicated in one state, then that individual moves to another state, the clause ensures that the previous ruling will carry over into the other state. Instead of having to re-try the issue at hand, the court is able to review the issue and rely on the determination from the other out-of-state court.

How Does the Clause Affect Protection Orders?

Previously, it was difficult to enforce a protection order in a different state. For example, if a victim of domestic abuse was fleeing to another state, in many cases, they would have a difficult time having their restraining or protection order being enforced once they left the boundaries of that state.

Currently, however, a protection order is enforceable anywhere an individual goes in the United States. In addition, computerized services have made it easier to enforce a protection order as an individual travels from location to location.

Therefore, a court is required to give full faith and credit to a protection order, regardless if it was issued by that court or was issued elsewhere.

What Ensures that My Protection Order is Enforceable Anywhere in the U.S?

The Full Faith and Credit Clause in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was enacted to enforce a valid protection order in any location. This provision ensures that any protection order which is issued in any state, territory, or tribal area, is enforceable anywhere in the country.

This legal principle requires courts to recognize and enforce a valid decree or judgment from another state court.

Does the Full Faith and Credit Clause Apply to Family Law Rulings?

Yes, the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies to family law filings. In addition to legislative issues and public records, the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires courts to recognize various family law rulings from other states.

For example, this clause may require a court to uphold an out-of-state ruling related to: ;

  • A protection order;
  • Marriage issues, including:
    • interracial marriages;
    • civil unions;
    • domestic partnerships; and
    • other issues;
  • A birth certificate;
  • Child custody and visitation, especially if relocation out of state is a significant issue in the case;
  • Child support determinations.

Is Full Faith and Credit Given to Child Custody Determinations?

Yes, the Full Faith and Credit clause requires every state to enforce child visitation or child custody determinations which were made by a court in another state. For example, authorities in Oregon are required to implement and abide by any custody order that was made in Oregon.

This applies to temporary and permanent orders as well as modifications made on court orders in the home state, or the state where the judgment was originally made.

Can Full Faith and Credit Affect Child Custody?

Yes, the Full Faith and Credit Clause may affect child custody issues because it allows a child custody order to be carried out equally among all fifty states as well as the District of Columbia. Pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), every state is required to enforce all child custody judgments from another state.

In other words, if the State of Georgia grants a mother full custody of her child, the State of Georgia will honor the custody arrangement.

What if a Person Attempts to Violate the Clause?

An individual is not permitted to relocate to another state for the sole purpose of obtaining a different ruling in a child custody or other family law issue. Instead, what will occur is that the court in the new state will examine the records of the previous rulings in the first state and will then institute findings based upon those records.

It is generally prohibited by civil procedure laws to purposely find fault with a particular court or to go from place to place seeking a suitable venue, referred to as forum shopping. An abuse of the Full Faith and Credit Clause may lead to consequences for a plaintiff, which may include a court fine or a contempt order.

On the other hand, if a court violates the Full faith and Credit Clause by not honoring the ruling of another court, it may lead to a re-determination of the case or an appeal in another court.

Are There Times when Full Faith and Credit is not Extended?

The purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause is to apply consistent standards equally across all fifty states. If, however, the Full Faith and Credit Clause clashes with the public policy of the state, it may not be enforced.

For example, California allows transgender individuals to change the gender on their birth certificates as well as their state ID cards to reflect their chosen gender. California considers this right provided to the transgender community to be good for the public.

In contrast, New Mexico does not permit this exact change and does not recognize that it is a benefit to the public. In this case, the Full Faith and Credit Clause would not apply or require New Mexico to allow transgender individuals to change their gender on their birth certificates and their state ID cards.

What was the Situation before the Full Faith and Credit Clause?

Prior to the federal Full Faith and Credit Clause, it was difficult for an individual to get courts, prosecutors, or law enforcement to provide assistance outside of the issuing state. It was also difficult for individuals who had a protection order to cross state lines to:

  • Visit family and friends;
  • Work;
  • Shop; or
  • Permanently relocate.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with the Full Faith and Credit Clause?

It may be difficult for an individual to understand constitutional laws. It may be helpful for you to consult with a government lawyer if you need assistance with laws including the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

Your attorney can explain how the clause may apply to your case as well as what you should do if you suspect a violation has occurred. In addition, your attorney will be able to provide you with representation if you are required to file a lawsuit or if you have to attend official court hearings.

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