The full faith and credit definition is the obligation that every state has to recognize and accept other states' public records, judicial proceedings, and legislative acts. It may also involve the government's agreement to repay debts. It's provided for in the U.S. Constitution by what's called the “Full Faith and Credit Clause.”

What Full Faith and Credit Means

If the United States backs a bond with full faith and credit, the U.S. government is obligated to repay the bond and must find a way to do so. The types of bonds known as full-faith-and-credit-bonds include Ginnie Mae bonds and U.S. Treasury securities, as well as some other debt securities.

While some municipalities may attach full faith and credit to the bonds they issue, this credit means less than the backing of the federal government.

The Constitutional clause regarding full faith and credit helps to ensure that court decisions in one state will be honored in other states. The clause is primarily used to enforce judgments.

Purpose of Full Faith and Credit

The framers of the U.S. Constitution wanted to unite the newborn country when they wrote this clause. They also wanted to allow states to keep some of their autonomy. To achieve this, it was necessary to guarantee that one court's judicial decisions and judgments would be honored by any other state. This was essential for creating one union out of many jurisdictions.

The clause also prevents someone from “forum shopping,” or bringing a suit in another state if he or she doesn't get the desired outcome in his or her home state. It also prevents individuals from moving to other states in order to avoid court judgments.

The U.S. Supreme Court has three contexts in which it uses the clause to govern state-court proceedings, which are as follows:

  • To determine when a state must take jurisdiction for claims arising in other states
  • To limit how local state law applies to another state's laws in disputes involving multiple states
  • To recognize and enforce judgments rendered in sister-state courts

The Supreme Court has ruled that one court can't refuse to hear claims arising under the laws of another state.

State courts usually apply their own rules, including their individual statutes of limitations, but there are instances when one state's substantive law should give way to another state's substantive law.

Examples of Full Faith and Credit in Action

Historically, child custody determinations had fallen under state court jurisdiction. Prior to the 1970s, other states didn't enforce full faith and credit on these determinations. Due to this, divorced parents sometimes sought more favorable rulings in other states. This provided incentives for unhappy parents to take a child and move to another state in order to petition for custody. Therefore, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act was adopted in 1968 to prevent these types of situations.

Another act that extends full faith and credit is The Violence Against Women Act of 1994. This involves protective order enforcement. Previously, protective orders were only enforced in the state in which they originated. This Act gave victims who moved to another state added protection.

When a court issues a valid judgment, and the involved parties have proper notice of the action, the clause requires the judgment to receive the same effect in any other state in addition to the one where the judgment was originally entered.

An individual who obtains a judgment in one jurisdiction may petition another state's court to enforce that judgment. In this instance, the issues are not litigated again in the other state. Instead, the second state has an obligation to fully recognize and honor the first state's judgment.

Although the U.S. is made up of 50 states, with individual state laws shaping much of each one's government, there are instances where all states are expected to follow the same rules. This applies in the case of full faith and credit.

It prevents a number of legal issues that could come up if one state didn't recognize the validity of another state's judgments. This clause helps ensure uniformity and provides a measure of protection for certain groups as well. In this way, all of the states behave like a cohesive unit.

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