This blog post is from Connie Moore, a collaboratively-trained family law attorney and a founding partner in the law firm of Moore & Hunt in Houston, Texas. Moore & Hunt is the first women-owned boutique law firm in Houston to openly focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Connie is a member of the National Family Law Advisory Council of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and is a member of the Legal Advisory Council of the American Fertility Association.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) couples are often just like straight couples. They begin a life together, have children, accumulate wealth, and deal with the realities of day-to-day life. As is the case with many of today’s families, some LGBT families dissolve and transition. Collaborative law is ideal for these families to help them through this difficult process. But because the law around gay marriage and parenting is so unsettled, each party in an LGBT dissolution matter has the potential to lose big at the court house.
Laws about marriage for LGBT families vary widely from state to state, and seem to be changing daily. Earlier this year, President Obama instructed the U.S Department of Justice to stop defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which gives individual states the right to determine whether or not to accept gay marriages or civil unions. However, in Texas, we have our own statutory and constitutional DOMAs, which significantly restrict LGBT couples from acknowledgment and enforcement of their relationships in a court setting. Also, there are conflicting court opinions from different appellate courts in Texas on what conduct gives rise to standing in custody and property disputes. Bottom line: there is inconsistent protection at the courthouse for the LGBT family.
Enter the collaborative approach. Couples have the opportunity to work with professionals who can provide them with enough information so they can make the best decisions for the family. They employ collaboratively trained attorneys to help them set priorities and goals. Even though in Texas there is currently no recognition of same-sex marriage and therefore no formal divorce, many LGBT families have used assisted reproduction technology to have their families. Through collaborative dissolution, the couple can use a mental health professional to help craft a parenting plan to ensure that the children will continue to have the nurturing and support of two parents. They can also use a financial professional to get budgets and projections to make sure the parties and the children are able to go forward on secure financial footing. One major difference in non-marital dissolution and regular divorce is the tax consequences of the transfer of property between unmarried persons. By using collaborative law, the parties can spend their resources on keeping as much wealth as possible and at the same time avoid paying unnecessary or unintended taxes.
Many LGBT families live very private lives. LGBT couples can maintain complete privacy through the collaborative process. Since there is no legal marriage in Texas at this time, there is no requirement that the dissolution of the relationship be documented in court. LGBT couples have a choice about whether they file a court order after a collaborative settlement or simply go forward under the collaborative agreement. Clearly, LGBT couples have many choices using collaborative law that are not even options in litigation.