The Top 10 Issues Facing Nontraditional Couples and Families

By: Mariah L. Passarelli, Esq.

Why should you care about legal issues that nontraditional couples are facing? How is the landscape changing for gay, lesbian and other nontraditional couples and families in your state and across the country?  What do you need to know to ensure that you and your loved ones are protected?

We launched to help you answer these questions and better understand how the laws impact you.  

Our first post outlines the 10 reasons why you need to read this blog. Check back weekly for blog posts that further detail these, and many other, important issues.

1. Marriage

With a growing number of states legalizing gay marriage (eight, as of the date of this writing), the law in this area is all over the map. Literally. It is important to know your rights in the state where you live. What happens if you get married in another state? What are the ins and outs of domestic partnership laws? What is a common law marriage, is it acceptable in my state and do we qualify?

2. Domestic Partner and Cohabitation Agreements

No one getting together thinks that they are going to break up, but the fact is many of us do. We’ll look at the need for Domestic Partner and Cohabitation Agreements and the types of pitfalls you can avoid by having one in place when things are going well, rather than waiting until there’s a problem.

3. Adoption

The adoption process can be a complicated emotional rollercoaster for any prospective parent. For nontraditional couples, the legal road to a successful adoption can be even more complicated and filled with dead ends. Future blog entries will look at domestic and international adoption for nontraditional couples and single parents, as well as legal issues involving surrogacy, fertility options, and second-parent adoption.

4. Taxes

Related to the fluctuating legal status of gay marriage in the United States, the tax picture is anything but clear. When you get married in a state like New York, can you file your state taxes jointly? What about your federal taxes? If you mark “single,” is it a lie? If your partner puts you on the deed to a house that he already owns, is that a taxable event?

5. Insurance

There’s a laundry list of insurance available out there: life insurance, health insurance, renters insurance, disability insurance, long term care insurance, homeowner’s insurance. It can make your head spin. Despite your best efforts, are you really covered? If you own a house and you are not both on the deed, is your partner covered by the homeowners insurance? We’ll take a look at areas where nontraditional couples and families might be leaving themselves at risk and not even know it.

6. Joint Real Property
Owning a home with your significant other should be pretty simple, right? Absolutely not! Unlike traditional married couples, when nontraditional couples own join real property the law is anything but clear. What are the tax consequences if you break up and need to transfer the house from one joint owner to the other? Could a bankruptcy by one owner jeopardize the house? We’ll look at the pros and cons, legal ramifications and realities of putting your partner on the deed (or not).

7. Estate Planning
Estate planning should be everyone’s “problem.” However, the legal safety nets set up to protect the assets of traditional couples and families often leave nontraditional folks out in the cold. As such, the importance of good estate planning for nontraditional couples and families cannot be over emphasized. Who will get your assets upon your death? What will happen to your debts? Who should take care of your pets?

8. Children
There’s more to this than just adoption. With many countries (and even some U.S. states) banning single parent and same sex adoption, nontraditional couples are turning to solutions such as surrogacy and co-parenting arrangements. We will look at legal protections for these families, as well as address other related issues including child custody, authority for school and medical decisions, and ways to legally protect the rights of co-parents when formal adoption is not an option.

9. Employment Discrimination
United States civil rights laws still do not protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Increasingly, however employers, local municipalities, counties, and cities have adopted anti-employment discrimination provisions that provide some protection for the GLBT community. We’ll take a look at these protections. As an employer, what are the best practices for making my workplace GLBT-friendly? As an employee, what are my options if I feel I have been discriminated against or harassed? Do I have the same rights in the workplaces as my heterosexual counterparts?

10. Power of Attorney
Often swept under the rug as a bi-product of estate planning, powers of attorney are important tools that should be a part of any nontraditional couple’s or family’s arsenal of legal resources. Powers of Attorney make it possible for one half of a couple to make joint financial transactions and, perhaps more importantly, medical decisions. They can be triggered to take effect only when the other half of the couple is incapacitated, or set up to be used as a convenience feature that avoids joint trips to the bank. What kind of power of attorney should you have? When should it kick in? How much authority should it grant? We’ll take a look at both financial and medical powers of attorneys and discuss some pitfalls to avoid in creating these important documents.

We hope through this review of the Top 10 you’ve gained a better understanding of some of the legal issues that nontraditional couples and families face.