The Full Faith and Credit Clause is an integral part of the U.S. Constitution. Found in Article IV, Section 1, the clause requires that all states’ decisions, public records, and rulings be honored in all the other U.S. states.
Each U.S. court must give “full faith” and “credit” to the decisions rendered by other courts. Without the Full Faith and Credit Clause, conflicts might arise between states, and the legal system would be entangled in various overlapping rulings.
How Is the Full Faith and Credit Clause Defined?
The Full Faith and Credit Clause is a constitutional provision regulating how courts deal with rulings from other courts and jurisdictions. In particular, the clause states that all courts must honor the judgments, legislative actions, and records from other courts, including out-of-state courts.
The courts are to give “full faith and credit” to previous rulings handed out in another area.
What’s the Purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause?
This clause aims to provide a harmonious interaction between the several different court systems that operate in the United States. It also helps reduce judicial waste and unnecessary re-litigation of matters that have already been decided.
Does the Full Faith and Credit Clause Apply to Family Law Rulings?
Yes, aside from public records and legislative issues, the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires courts to recognize various family law rulings from other states.
For example, the clause may require courts to uphold out-of-state rulings regarding:
- Protection orders
- Marriage issues (interracial marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc.)
- Birth certificates
- Child custody and visitation (in particular, relocation out of state is a significant issue in these cases)
- Child support determinations
What If a Person Attempts to Violate the Clause?
A person cannot relocate to another state simply to obtain a different ruling on child custody or other family law issues. Instead, what will happen is that the court in the new state will examine records from the previous rulings in the other state and will institute findings based on these records.
Purposely finding fault with a particular court or going from place to place looking for a suitable venue is generally prohibited by civil procedure laws. Abuses of the Full Faith and Credit Clause can lead to consequences for the plaintiff, such as a contempt order or a court fine.
On the other hand, if the court violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause by not honoring a ruling from another court, it could lead to a re-determination of the case or an appeal in a different court.
How Does the Clause Affect Protection Orders?
Previously, it was difficult to enforce protection orders in different states. For example, if the victim of domestic abuse was fleeing to another state, they often had a hard time having a restraining or protection order being enforced once they left state boundaries.
However, protection orders are enforceable anywhere the individual goes in the U.S. In addition, computerized services have made it easier to enforce protection orders as a person travels from place to place. Therefore, courts must give “full faith and credit” to protection orders, regardless if they were issued by that court or were issued elsewhere. The clause can be found in Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
When Is Full Faith and Credit Commonly Enforced?
Full Faith and Credit is typically used to enforce marriage/divorce certificates (i.e., legal documentation proving the validity of a marriage or divorce), child custody rulings, restraining orders, money judgments, and criminal convictions.
Are There Times when Full Faith and Credit is Not Extended?
The purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause is to apply a consistent standard equally among all fifty states. However, if the Full Faith and Credit Clause clashes with the state’s public policy, it may not be enforced. For instance, California permits transgender individuals to change the gender on their birth certificates and state ID cards to reflect their chosen gender. California considers this right for the transgender community good for the public.
Conversely, New Mexico does not allow this exact change and does not recognize the benefit to the public. In this instance, the full faith and credit clause would not apply to require New Mexico to allow transgender individuals to change their gender on birth certificates and state ID cards.
Is Full Faith and Credit Given to Child Custody Determinations?
The Full Faith and Credit law requires every state to enforce child custody or visitation determinations made by the court of another state. For example, authorities in Maine are required to implement and abide by custody orders made in Oregon. This applies to both permanent and temporary orders and modifications made on court orders in the “home state” (i.e., a state where the judgment is originally made).
Can Full Faith and Credit Affect Child Custody?
Full Faith and Credit affects child custody in that it allows child custody orders to be carried out equally among all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. According to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), states must enforce child custody judgments from other states.
In other words, if Washington grants a mother full custody of her child, Georgia will honor the custody arrangement.
What Ensures That My Protection Order is Enforceable Anywhere in the U.S?
The full faith and credit provision in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was legislated to enforce a valid protection order anywhere. This provision ensures that all protection orders issued in any state, tribal area, or territory are enforceable anywhere in the country.
This legal principle requires judges to recognize and enforce valid decrees and judgments from other state courts.
What Was the Situation before the Full Faith and Credit Clause?
Before the federal full faith and credit clause, it was difficult to get law enforcement, courts, and prosecutors to help outside the issuing state. It was hard for individuals with 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?
Understanding constitutional laws can often be challenging at times. You may wish to hire a government lawyer if you need help with laws such as the full faith and credit clause. Your attorney can explain how the clause may apply to your situation and what you should do if you suspect a violation. Also, your lawyer will be able to provide you with representation if you need to file a lawsuit or if you need to attend official court hearings.
Dealing with constitutional laws can often be very challenging. You may wish to hire a government lawyer if you need help with any constitutional law or procedural matters. Your attorney can guide you to the proper solution for your issue and can represent you in court if you need to file a legal claim. If you are trying to enforce or modify custody of your child made by the home state, you may wish to consult a lawyer. Working with a knowledgeable child custody lawyer can help you understand your legal rights, file the appropriate paperwork, and help you attain the results you desire.