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Legal Ease: The importance of knowing your rights

Believe it or not, many LGBT couples are not aware of their legal rights when it comes to relationships and family issues. But even those who were aware of their rights in the past are not always aware of their current legal rights, which are changing rapidly with the advance of LGBT equality efforts.

This lack of knowledge can have a profound effect on LGBT families. The laws in California, for example, are constantly changing, and these changes can have substantial effects on the LGBT community. This is true whether you are referring to health insurance, filing taxes or using a known sperm donor to build your family.

Recently, a lesbian couple came into my office seeking a known-donor agreement to have a child using the sperm of a gay friend of one of the women. For the sake of anonymity, I will refer to the birth mom as BM, the other intended mom as IM, and the sperm donor as SD.

When this couple came to me, BM was already pregnant. In a scenario in which the proper process and procedures were followed, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, at least not until recently. New laws are being passed by the California Legislature that will add new problems for the LGBT community. I will discuss this in a later article.

In the case of the lesbian couple who came to my office, BM and IM are not legally married or registered domestic partners (RDP). This is a cause for concern because the usual presumptions, which protect a couple who are married or RDP, do not apply. This situation, however, could still be manageable if all the parties are in agreement.

Upon further discussion, I learned that BM and SD had married for the sole purpose of providing BM with medical insurance. They did not live together and were in no way a couple other than on paper. IM was employed and had medical insurance available through her employer, but BM and IM had no idea that BM could have received medical insurance through IM’s employer. This one piece of knowledge would have saved this couple, and the child, a lot of future complication and anguish.

Same-gender couples are now permitted to marry in California. This is not just a romantic gesture; it has very real legal benefits. Previously and for the time-being, same-gender couples can register as domestic partners. This grants quite a few legal rights to the couple and spouses, but fewer rights than marriage.

RDP grants you the right to make decisions for each other and receive medical insurance from your spouse’s employer, for example. It also confers tax benefits as well as parental rights over your children within the State of California. Marrying grants you federal recognition, including federal tax benefits, death benefits for your spouse’s retirement plan and inheritance rights. These are but a very few of the rights same-gender couples now have. Yet, despite the large number of articles and media coverage surrounding this issue, for some reason many in the LGBT community still have no idea of their rights.

Due to the increasing and substantial number of LGBT people lacking knowledge of their legal rights, something must be done to reach the members of our LGBT community. To determine the level of knowledge within the LGBT community of legal rights conferred upon LGBT couples and to determine the preferred source of acquiring this knowledge, I have prepared a simple survey for readers to complete. The LGBT Family Law Survey survey is anonymous and no personal identifying information is requested. The survey can be found HERE. In order to obtain a somewhat accurate result, please forward this article to your friends and ask them to take the survey as well.

Rivka Israel, Esq. is a local Family and LGBT Family Law attorney who spent her undergrad years at Bar Ilan University, received her JD from California Western School of Law and was admitted to the California State Bar in 2000. She is active in the community, a member of the GSDBA and writes articles for various local LGBT media. For more information about Rivka or her practice, call (858) ITS-EASY (487-3279), visit her Family Legal Ease website or contact her via email, at lavenderlegal@yahoo.com.