This has truly been a landmark year for our community. The marriage issue is fundamentally resolved in our favor. Yes, there are a few lingering problems in a few states of resistance, but these are truly minor problems. The biggest challenge for couples is aligning their personal situation with the legal changes. For California couples, the big question for registered domestic partners is whether to marry, to obtain the federal benefits. For most couples the answer will be a resounding yes, given the long term benefits that come from federal recognition. The two areas to be particularly attentive to are (1) whether federal tax rules will result in higher income taxes and (2) whether being married will disqualify one of the spouses from an inc0me-based federal benefit.
The other aspect of the “clean up” task is to review beneficiary statements, account designations, and property titles, to be sure that they are in sync with your marital status. For most couples who are already registered no changes would be needed, but some of these technicalities are complicated to be sure to check with an estate or benefits lawyer if you have specific questions.
There are still a nasty cluster of problems around parentage. The presumption of shared parentage that comes from marriage is not being fully recognized in every state, and in some situations a second-parent adoption is still advised. If one of you is not clearly a legal parent, talk with an attorney who is familiar with the rules in this area.
The California legislature has taken some bold steps to address many of the legal concerns facing same-sex parents. Last year they enacted a comprehensive surrogacy bill that allows a couple to obtain a court order deeming them as intended parents before the child is born, which clarifies any issues of the legal status of the surrogate. This year a comprehensive bill was enacted into law which allows a sperm donor to agree in writing that he’s not a legal parent, even if no doctor was involved in the insemination. Even in the absence of such a written agreement, a court can determine that the donor and the mother had an oral agreement about parentage before the child was conceived.
The new law (AB 960) also allows an unmarried partner to agree that his or her partner is a legal parent. California Family Code Section 7613.5 provides forms and further information on how to apply these new provisions to your family.
Best wishes to all of you in 2016!