LGBTQ Cases – A Discussion with Attorney Jason Coupal was last modified: October 14th, 2019 by Howard Iken
Video ThumbnailAttorney Jason Coupal discusses Florida family law and custody cases involving LBGTQ parties

LGBTQ Cases – A Discussion with Attorney Jason Coupal

Video Transcript:

Tom Lemons:  

Until recently, family law cases involving same sex couples was a complex area of practice, not only for the client but for attorneys and judges alike. Today we have Ayo & Iken attorney, Jason Coupal, who specializes in same sex divorce and custody cases and he’ll give us some insight into how the courts are becoming more familiar with the LGBTQ community. Jason is also passionate about legal history, so we’ll talk about the differences in common and civil law, as well as other judicial systems around the world. I’m Tom lemons and this is the Ayo and Iken Report.

Tom Lemons:  

Jason, welcome to the Ayo & Iken Report.

Jason Coupal:   

Thanks Tom. Thanks for having me.

Tom Lemons:  

Yeah, you’re welcome. All right, so you have a background in working in the LGBT community.

Jason Coupal:     

Yes.

Tom Lemons:       

Tell us a little bit about how you got into that and what kinds of things should we be aware of with working in the legal field of same sex marriages?

Jason Coupal:               

Sure, sure. I started my involvement with the community when I was going through my own personal coming out experience in law school. And during that period I joined a number of public service organizations dedicated to helping the LGBT community. When I got out of law school in 1996, I opened my own practice and the very first case I handled involved in a lesbian plaintiff in a case up in the panhandle. And so I was immediately drawn into doing practical work for the community.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right, right. So that was your… And you just said it was your very first case, so that had to be a real kind of stressful for you to be the very first thing you work on right out of school, right?

Jason Coupal:                     

Yeah, it was, I mean literally I had just gotten the license two days before when I got the call from a public service organization that had asked me to help this individual and I kind of demurred. I was, “Well maybe you want to get someone a little bit more experienced and distinguished the me.” And they’re like, “Nope, we’re confident in your abilities.” And that’s where it all started.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right. And you were saying that this is something that most attorneys don’t see in their career over the lifetime of doing an appeal in their first case file.

Jason Coupal:                     

No, most attorneys they end up… They’ll see an appeal much further down the road and literally I was tossed into it within a matter of days.

Tom Lemons:                      

Wow. Okay. And so tell us a little bit about any laws that have changed recently that may affect same sex marriages in getting married and also as it may turn into a divorce or some type of a custody battle.

Jason Coupal:                     

Sure, sure. I think the main change was the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell in 2015 and what that did was it basically leveled the playing field and made both same sex and opposite sex couples subject to exactly the same rules. I mean previously it was kind of both the same sex partners and the courts were kind of fumbling around trying to determine what laws applied to familial relations. Because a) certainly they were not sanctioned by the state and b) because many of the situations were unique, the courts had to kind of search and kind of muddle its way through.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right, right. And so what are some of the nuances that a judge, an attorney, or even the client should know when things fall apart and they find themselves in a courtroom?

Jason Coupal:                     

Well, I mean, one, among other things is the fact that LGBT families are often different in their constitution. It is very common, for example, that one of the partners will be raising children from another relationship. And the question then becomes how does that person’s partner factor in when it comes to timesharing with the children and legal obligations when the marriage breaks down. That’s probably the most common situation that the courts are dealing with. I mean, with things like property division and equitable distribution, those follow roughly the same rules as it would with opposite sex couples.

Tom Lemons:                      

So at this time it’s really kind of becoming more standard almost, in a sense they’re same as with a heterosexual marriage, right?

Jason Coupal:                     

It’s similar but not the same. I think that there are a lot of different factors. I mean, again, I think that the LGBT community was denied legal recognition for so long that now that it’s there, I think, people who were involved in same sex marriages are now discovering what the marriage actually means. I mean, before it was just kind of a monolith that existed in the culture and now they’re discovering that, you know, unlike before their relationships, now, there are legal consequences to being married and in a relationship.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right. Okay. So I recently found out that Jason is a real history buff, isn’t that right, Jason?

Jason Coupal:                     

Yes, I was a history major in college and I’m kind of a bit of an amateur historian, particularly when it comes to legal history. I’m always fascinated with discovering the origin of the laws that affect us today and I don’t really think you can understand them without knowing that history.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right. And you were talking about the difference between civil and common law, right? Isn’t that… What is the United States, how we govern our laws, and what is it abroad. Some differences in the [inaudible 00:05:40]?

Jason Coupal:                     

Sure. The US is a common law system. Basically every country that was an English colony is a common law system and draws its history from English common law. And what it means generally is that our legal precedents are derived decisions by judges usually on the appellate level. So yes, while we have written laws and statutes, it’s the interpretation of those laws and statutes by judges that we rely upon in conducting ourselves in the future. Civil law systems generally arose originally from Roman times. Generally it is a situation where the interpretation of laws comes from the reading of the laws themselves and there is less involvement with judge made decisions, while judges are called upon to interpret them in individual contexts those rulings are not necessarily precedential on those issues.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right. So I did a little research on my own and I saw a lot of different, I’d say, terms used to describe different types of laws around the world. And one of my found was one called statutory law, is that similar to what you’re trying to say as far as how some European countries…

Jason Coupal:                     

Well generally, I mean, statutory law I guess defined means all written laws. I mean, generally there are various different kinds of law, there are statutes, there are rules, et cetera. But statutory law as a general category are the written laws that we rely upon.

Tom Lemons:                      

Okay. And then one of the most intriguing one is something they do in socialist countries, which is called, well they call it socialist law. So have you done any investigating into that? Do you know much about that?

Jason Coupal:                     

Well, what’s interesting is I found in countries with the socialist and communist systems, if you actually read the laws themselves… For example, if you look at at the old Soviet system, they had laws on the books protecting the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, very similar to the ones we had. The question was is whether the courts would enforce them, the answer was generally they didn’t. A lot of country… When you’re thinking of social democracies like Scandinavia, things like that, they have standard civil law systems, they’re very similar to the civil law systems that exist everywhere else in the world. When you’re talking about countries that are dictatorships, autocracies, other oppressive systems, generally the laws that they have on the books are quite expansive and they offer a great degree of rights. However, those rights are generally meaningless unless there is a body of judges to enforce them and that’s where the problem lies.

Jason Coupal:                     

Because generally in many of these countries, when someone is charged with a crime, the outcome has already been pretty much decided. And the procedure to getting to that point, unfortunately, it’s very… It’s giving lip service.

Tom Lemons:                      

So it’s really, there’s really not a… They may say there’s some due process, but it’s not really like it is here in the United States, right?

Jason Coupal:                     

Generally not. I mean I think that…. I mean, I don’t mean to sound biased, but I think that in modern European societies and the US, I think that there is a high level of due process given. With countries in the developing world and countries under more oppressive legal systems, not so much.

Tom Lemons:                      

Okay. Yeah, that’s what I assumed. Now something that I know you’re interested in and you work with often, is the religious aspect of law.

Jason Coupal:                     

Yes.

Tom Lemons:                      

And you’ve dealt with some cases where maybe there’s a marriage that happens, in let’s say Israel or something, and they come to the United States and they decide to get divorced or there’s a custody… Tell us a little bit…. That was very interesting, so tell us a little bit about that.

Jason Coupal:                     

It’s very interesting, Israel in particular, I’ve done a number of cases involving Israeli litigants. And in Israel, Israel has a very, very advanced civil justice system. However, certain areas of law have been basically delegated to religious authorities. And one of the more prevalent areas is family law. In Israel, Jews, regardless of whether or not they are practicing or they believe in the religion, are required to go before a rabbinical court when it comes to divorcing. So there is no civil system like ours is, I mean our system operates regardless of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion, anything else. Whereas in Israel with Jewish divorce, there is a specific court that’s set aside. The question often arises when Israeli couples come here is to what extent the proceedings of a rabbinical court would be recognized or enforced by a American court. And the problem with that is obviously under our first amendment, the court cannot favor any religion and problems often arise where to enforce certain etiquettes of a religious court in Israel would result in an unconstitutional act here. For example, a court in Israel may say that the children must be raised in a certain way or in a certain religion or must attend a certain school. A court in the United States cannot enforce that because to do so it would be an unconstitutional entanglement with religion.

Tom Lemons:                      

Sure. And that’s… You know, that leads me to another question. We had talked about tribal law, is that… That’s not really how the Israeli system works. What would you call this judicial system here.

Jason Coupal:                     

I mean, again, they are a very advanced civil law system with exceptions and… I mean, now there are religious courts that exist in Europe and the United States, for example, Canon law systems, the Catholic church has a legal arm, the Anglican church in England does as well. But the point is those usually involve affairs that are specific to the church themselves. Whereas in Israel with a rabbinical divorce that involves the populous in general and it isn’t necessarily restricted to affairs of the religion.

Tom Lemons:                      

So that must be common and it’s caused a lot of challenges, especially for someone like you who’s working in, let’s say, a divorce or a child custody issue. That’s got to be a real challenge when you get cases like that.

Jason Coupal:                     

Oh it is. It is and I used to work in South Florida where there are a lot of expatriate Israelis who live there, or come to live there, and it becomes an issue when family law matters arise’.

Tom Lemons:                      

Interesting.

Jason Coupal:                     

Also, there is a question oftentimes, is that Israeli courts believe that they have jurisdiction over Israeli citizens, whereas in Florida, any one of any origin who’s lived in Florida for at least six months is entitled to bring action in the family courts here. So there’s often a clash of jurisdictions as well.

Tom Lemons:                      

Wow. So you know, Jason works here at the Ayo & Iken law firm and he is one of about 18 or 20 attorneys we have now, we’re growing every day.

Tom Lemons:                      

We’re one of the largest family law firms in Florida. So if you are looking for an attorney and especially if it’s a divorce or custody issue and you happen to be in the same sex marriage that’s… You know, he would be probably the prime person to contact here at the Ayo & Iken. What would you tell our viewers, anything you want to tell him about your personal practice and how you could help them, how you could help a potential client.

Jason Coupal:                     

I mean, I approach family law in both a legal sense and a holistic sense because I recognize that any lawyer can be a vigorous advocate and can know every law in the book and can be your advocate for your issues. However, if you don’t have, I think the experience with dealing with the type of clients that you have, or you’re not familiar with certain family structures or customs, it can make the representation less than entirely effective. I think that my experience, not only at practicing within the LGBT community, but being a member of that community itself, I think it gives me a fairly unique viewpoint when dealing with cases like this. Also, there comes a point where the courts need to be educated about the these issues and I think that that allows me to do that as well, too.

Tom Lemons:                      

Well, I imagine to go to the judges, have probably been on the bench, most of them been on the bench for quite a few years, even before these new laws have passed. So they really do have to be educated on some of these things.

Jason Coupal:                     

They do. And, again, no matter how you slice it, it’s always going to be the less frequent family structure you’re going to see. So they need to have that information presented to them in a easily understood way.

Tom Lemons:                      

Absolutely. Well, Jason, thank you so much for coming on.

Jason Coupal:                     

And thank you Tom. I appreciate it.

Tom Lemons:                      

Hope you’ll come back again.

Jason Coupal:                     

Absolutely.

Tom Lemons:                      

Right. Thank you.

confidential





Need assistance with this form?

Or email message to:

Free Consultation is limited to individuals considering hiring an attorney.  Not all situations qualify.  Fee charged for appellate case evaluations.



Our Attorneys Are Ready to Fight for You!

Over the past 14 years Ayo & Iken has helped over 5,000 people just like you

Our Attorneys Are Ready to Fight for You!

Over the past 14 years Ayo & Iken has helped over 5,000 people just like you