Some more information about same-sex marriage

Since June 26, 2015, same-sex couples in Pennsylvania and other states have been legally eligible to get married. This ruling was issued by the United States Supreme Court in a decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the country. While these are nontraditional families, they are still granted the same legal benefits of marriage as a heterosexual couple. Because of this, there are some facts about same-sex marriage that are important to remember in the event of any kind of legal dispute.

There has been a significant amount of support from the general public for same-sex marriage. However, there are still certain religious groups that are against same-sex marriages. About 85 percent of Americans who don’t associate with a religious belief, though, approve of this kind of marriage. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriages are legal, couples are taking advantage and going to magistrates and other venues across the country instead of simply living a life together as a couple.

Even those who identify as being lesbian or gay get married because they love each other and not because it’s now legal to do so. However, the issue of legal rights for the couple is also a reason why same-sex couples get married instead of continuing to live together. The United States joins over 20 other countries that have legalized same-sex marriage. Other nations allowing these unions include France, Spain and Canada.

Same-sex marriages share the same rights as those provided to heterosexual couples. If there is a separation or divorce, an attorney specializing in family law can assist with child support, the division of property and any custodial issues that might arise.

States introducing anti-LGBT adoption laws

Pennsylvania readers know that the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015. However, LGBT couples still face significant family law hurdles in several states.

For example, South Dakota passed a law in March 2017 that allows adoption agencies to exclude LGBT people from their pools of prospective parents for religious or moral reasons. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have introduced bills that would limit adoption by same-sex couples in their states. The bill in Alabama would permit state-funded child placement agencies to ban LGBT parents on religious grounds, and the Georgia bill would let adoption agencies protect their mission goals by discriminating against potential LGBT parents.

Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services show that there are over 400,000 children awaiting adoption in the U.S. According to adoption advocates, discriminating against prospective LGBT parents harms children by denying them loving homes and forcing them to stay in the foster care system.

The adoption process can be complex and confusing, especially for non-traditional families. LGBT individuals and couples interested in adopting a child from the Pennsylvania foster care system may find it helpful to work with an attorney familiar with both family law and LGBT issues. An attorney could help prospective parents navigate the adoption process and ensure they meet the state’s adoption qualifications every step of the way. Legal counsel could also be helpful when someone wants to adopt the biological child of their same-sex partner. Prospective parents could learn more about the adoption process by meeting with an attorney.

Source: Huffington Post, “Numerous Anti-LGBT Adoption Laws Are Popping Up Across The Country“, Eric Rosswood, March 28, 2017

Former same-sex couple battling over child’s adoption

Pennsylvania parents may want to hear about a Kentucky lawsuit that demonstrates the problems same-sex couples sometimes face in child custody disputes following breakups. In the case, which is headed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, two women were partners and one had a child through a sperm donor while they were still together.

The case revolves around a girl who is now 9 years old. Until she was 4, she was raised by both her biological mother as well as her mother’s partner. The partner had the girl on her medical insurance, and the girl was given both her middle and last names. The couple then split up.

Initially, the couple had an informal child custody and visitation agreement, but when the biological mother met and married a man, she cut off all ties with her former partner. Her husband is seeking to adopt the girl, and the former partner is seeking child custody and visitation rights. The trial court granted her parental rights, but an appellate court reversed that decision due to the fact there is no biological relationship and the partner didn’t adopt her. The case will be argued before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The case illustrates the difficulties that same-sex partners can face. While same-sex marriage was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court, other areas of the family law have not caught up. This can make some situations very difficult for a person who is in a same-sex relationship, especially regarding child custody and visitation if a child is not biologically theirs. People who are in same-sex relationships and who plan to marry may want to consult with a family law attorney in order to discuss how changing laws might affect them if they want to expand their family later.

Glory Johnson’s request for spousal support is denied

Pennsylvania WNBA fans may have heard that a judge denied Glory Johnson’s spousal support request from Brittany Griner on Aug. 20. Johnson had reportedly been seeking $20,000 a month to pay for food and hired help. The two were married for just 28 days prior to Griner seeking a divorce.

Johnson and Griner were reportedly married on May 8. On June 4, Johnson announced that she was pregnant with twins so she would not be playing during this season. The following day, Griner filed to have the marriage either dissolved or annulled after claiming that she had been pressured into it by Johnson. Johnson stated that Griner was aware that she was pursing a pregnancy through in vitro fertilization, but Griner stated she was not aware that the process that resulted in the pregnancy had taken place.

It was ruled on Aug. 12 that there was no basis for an annulment. The court recommended that the two women attempt to reach a settlement prior to the next hearing, which is scheduled to take place on Sept. 23. Once the twins are born, Johnson may have the opportunity to seek child support from Griner.

The dissolution of a same-sex marriage can be difficult, especially if there are children involved. A family law attorney can potentially help protect a person’s parental rights, including his or her right to seek custody or child support. Additionally, the attorney may help a parent who did not give birth to the children go through the adoption process so that his or rights are protected and that the children will have the opportunity to have a strong relationship with both parents.

Source: ESPN, “Judge denies Glory Johnson’s request of support from Brittney Griner“, Mechelle Voepel, Aug. 20, 2015

The question of same-sex divorces

Same-sex couples now have the right to marry in all 50 states after the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision. However, just as marriage has become nationally legal, the question of how same-sex divorces will be handled has come up. Pennsylvania same-sex couples who are considering a divorce might be met with some challenges specific to their situations that might not be issues that come up in heterosexual divorces.

While the division of property during the dissolution of a same-sex marriage will probably be handled similarly to the division during a traditional divorce, various lawyers predict that the strongest challenges will be related to custody issues. Because the children of same-sex couples have a biological relationship to, at most, only one member of the couple, and often there are questions of adoption and sperm donors involved, challenges about who should have custody might arise.

While a 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act opened the door to same-sex couples being entitled to certain federal benefits that were previously unavailable, the results have been slow. The June 2015 ruling guarantees that same-sex couples will also be offered the same state benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples. This means, though, that courts handling same-sex divorces will find themselves in uncharted territory and will need time to adjust.

Many lawyers believe that it might take some time for the courts to have to address the issues brought up by the dissolution of a same-sex marriage. Courts will have to adjust quickly, however, since the rate of dissolution of same-sex marriages is about the same as that of traditional marriages, according to information provided by a group that focuses on gender identity law, sexual orientation and public policy. A person who is in a same-sex marriage and who is contemplating a divorce may want to speak with a family law attorney to see how some of these issues can be handled.

Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage

Many Americans in Pennsylvania and other states rejoiced on June 26 as the ban on same-sex marriage was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling. Justice Anthony Kennedy made the announcement that gay and lesbian couples are granted equal rights and protection under the law.

The ruling in this case would have had a national impact either way as the federal court rulings to lift gay marriage bans in 20 states could have been in jeopardy if the Supreme Court upheld the bans in Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. Thousands of couples have already married as 70 percent of Americans live in states where gay marriage was legal, but these marriages must now be recognized as legal even if a couple moves to another state.

In states where gay marriage was banned, couples were eager to gain the marriage licenses they had been denied. Michigan is one state that began issuing marriages licenses immediately after the decision was made, and one county clerk reported that she could not imagine making these couples wait any longer. The Supreme Court heard six consolidated cases from the states where gay marriage bans were upheld, and supporters of marriage equality argued that any two people had a fundamental right to marry under the due process and equal protection clauses found in the Constitution.

While this ruling is a step in the right direction for all same-sex couples who seek equal protection under the law, this unfortunately does not mean that the struggles some face are over. Any kind of nontraditional family could face challenges when trying to adopt a child or secure child custody. Those who are in this position may want to obtain the guidance of a family law attorney.

Transgender parents may face child custody obstacles

Some Pennsylvania residents are likely aware that former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner has undergone gender reassignment. His openness has raised awareness about transgender people, but as parents, people who have had gender reassignment may face some legal obstacles.

To some extent, those obstacles may depend upon the reaction of the other parent. A judge makes decisions about custody and visitation based on the best interests of the child, and if the judge feels that the child may face a lack of stability or may be targeted for social disapproval as a result of the parent’s transition, that could affect how the judge approaches the case. A judge may also be affected by prevailing social norms.

Another issue is whether same-sex parents can legally parent a child. In particular, transgender parents may struggle for visitation rights if they are not the biological parent or the adoptive parent. However, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage in a decision that is expected at some point during the summer of 2015, this may lead to changes to those laws throughout the United States. In Jenner’s case, this was not an issue because all of his children are in their late teens or older.

In Pennsylvania, same-sex marriage is legal, and this may smooth the way for some transgender people regarding child custody and visitation. Transgender individuals may wish to consult an attorney regarding these issues. For example, a couple may be splitting up, and one of them may be transitioning. The two parents may be in conflict regarding the transitioning parent’s access to the child. An attorney may be able to assist with negotiation or litigation if is necessary go to court. Another issue may arise if a transgender parent marries a same-sex parent and wishes to legally adopt the biological child of that parent. An attorney may be helpful with this issue as well.

Overview of Pennsylvania same-sex marriage

In a ruling that affected many Pennsylvania residents, a U.S. District Court judge overruled the Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited same-sex marriage. The state now recognizes these marriages performed in Pennsylvania and in other states. Same-sex couples who want to marry in the state have the right to apply for a marriage license. Once the application is submitted, they must wait the mandatory three days to have a marriage license issued by the Register of Wills. They can either obtain this through the mail or pick them up in person.

In some cases, a judge can give a waiver if there are unusual circumstances and if the couple needs to marry immediately. However, it can only be done through the court. The courts have also determined that a person can marry their domestic partner in Pennsylvania once they obtain a marriage license. Depending on the state of origin where they obtained the civil union, they might need to talk to an attorney before entering a same-sex marriage. For example, if they are receiving public assistance or other government benefits, marriage might affect their eligibility to receive benefits.

Just as in traditional marriages, same-sex marriages performed in other states will be recognized in Pennsylvania. The person does not need to do anything different. They will be entitled to all the protections that marriage affords.

Laws in Pennsylvania and across the nation are quickly changing regarding same-sex marriage. A person should not rely on outdated information as it might no longer apply to them. A family law attorney can provide a client with the most up-to-date information and how it affects their situation.

Source: ACLU, “FAQ about Marriage for Same-Sex Couples“, August 14, 2014

Same-sex custody battle taking a toll on Pennsylvania woman

As Pennsylvania residents are well aware, a federal judge this week struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for many same-sex couples in our state who have been patiently waiting to get married. Of course, not everyone will have waited for this decision to make their life plans; some people went to other states to get married, while others have been living together as a family for many years.

For those folks, the recent ruling might be bittersweet. Many couples have gotten together, had children, and then split up. Due to differing laws in different states at the time of their various life events, issues such as child custody may have been handled differently than if they had been able to get married before starting their families.

One Pennsylvania woman has been experiencing these difficulties for some time. She and her partner met in Pennsylvania and had a marriage ceremony there in 2007, knowing that it had no legal effect. They later moved to California, were recognized as domestic partners, and had a child via artificial insemination.

After moving back to Pennsylvania, the couple had a second child. Last year, the couple split up; the woman who gave birth to the children stayed with them in the family home, while the other partner sought custody. However, because she wasn’t listed on the birth certificate of the second child, due to Pennsylvania law, courts have so far refused to grant her any custody rights.

These issues may become moot in the future, now that same-sex couples can be married here. But there are still many couples who will continue to have to deal with a patchwork of laws as a result of their existing situations.

Source: York Dispatch, “Former Yorker embroiled in same-sex custody battle,” Christina Kauffman, May 7, 2014

Pennsylvania men to marry in New Jersey Pride parade

As same-sex marriage becomes more and more common around the country, the issues that such couples face are becoming less and less remarkable. Not every state has legalized same-sex marriage, of course, but same-sex couples are everywhere. Issues such as child custody, child support and adoption are commonplace for couples who, in some cases, have been together for a long time.

Couples often go to states that do permit and recognize same-sex marriage in order to get married and then return to their home states. These days, Pennsylvania is almost unique among states in the Northeast in that it doesn’t yet allow same-sex marriage. Our neighbors in New York and New Jersey do, however, making them common destinations for Pennsylvania couples.

Next month, a Pennsylvania couple marching in a gay pride parade that will begin in New Jersey and end across the river in Pennsylvania are getting married. They’ll be wed by the mayor of Lambertville, New Jersey, when the parade is on the New Jersey side; they’ll then march home to Pennsylvania as a married couple.

It’s not inconceivable that the law in Pennsylvania will change in the near future; after all, many states now have laws authorizing same-sex marriages. Until then, however, couples in Pennsylvania who aren’t married can still make sure that the legal needs of their families are addressed. Having the proper documentation in place can make it much easier for same-sex parents to be the legal parents of their children and make sure their rights are preserved in the event of one parent’s death.

Source: Hunterdon County Democrat, “Two men to marry in Lambertville ‘Pride’ parade, then return to Pennsylvania home,” Renée Kiriluk-Hill, April 8, 2014

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