Legal Pride Month: Top 5 Family Law Issues for LGBT People
June is Pride Month, so every Monday this month FindLaw will be looking at the unique legal issues faced by LGBT members of our community -- what the laws are currently, and what they may be in the near future. We'll be rounding up our coverage of employment rights, services and accommodation discrimination, and looking at upcoming legislation and court decisions. This week? It's family law.
While the Supreme Court recognized same-sex couples' right to marry almost four years ago, gay, lesbian, and transgender couples and parents are still struggling in some jurisdictions to achieve full legal recognition of their relationships, rights, and responsibilities. Here are some key examples to know.
At first, it was a matter of getting state and local judges and clerks to abide by the Supreme Court's ruling. Many clerks declined to issue marriage licenses or certificates to same-sex couples, and some judges explicitly rejected the decision. But by now, most jurisdictions are on board, and actually getting married is the easy part.
Other things can still be difficult, like getting a birth certificate recognizing both parents. Arkansas, for example, required lesbian couples to obtain a separate court order granting parental rights to or approving an adoption by the female spouse in order for both parents to be listed on a newborn's birth certificate. The State Department has also failed to recognize the citizenship of children born to same-sex parents. Both issues appear to have been resolved by the courts, however.
Same-sex and transgender couples face the same relationship issues as anyone, so what happens when those relationships end? For the most part, divorce courts are treating LGBT couples the same as heterosexual couples when making custody and visitation decisions. But that may still require some extra advocacy on a parent's part.
With legal rights -- like visitation and child custody -- often come legal responsibilities -- like child support. And states have now been enforcing those responsibilities against LGBT couples, even applying the age-old "marital paternity presumption" to same-sex parents.
Perhaps the one area of family law that lags far behind the others when recognizing the rights of LGBT citizens is adoptions. Many states still permit adoption agencies (even those that receive state and federal funding) to refuse services to same-sex or transgender couples. The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and other civil rights advocates are currently challenging these policies in court.
Family issues are always complicated -- legally and emotionally. So make sure you have the best legal guidance from an experienced family law attorney.