Representing LGBT Couples in Dissolution Proceedings Presents Special Challenges
Lawyers who represent lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual clients need to be aware of the political and social climate surrounding dissolutions of those committed relationships. In “Emerging Legal & Social Issues in Same-Sex Dissolutions,” panelists provided helpful information for attorneys who represent LGBT clients, including considerations during mediation and collaborative lawyering.
Lesbian and gay individuals face legal discrimination in their relationships, said experts during the program. Decisions made by LGBT individuals are sometimes based on that discrimination. For example, same-sex couples face a transfer tax when changing property titles that heterosexual couples do not. Thus, some same-sex couples do not change a house title that may be in one individual’s name to a title reflecting joint ownership when they enter into a civil union, domestic partnership or marriage. This can raise problems if the committed relationship is dissolved.
On the other hand, some same-sex couples find benefits in their inability to marry. When one person in a same-sex couple has bad credit, the other can borrow money to meet their joint needs. For married couples, the credit history of both parties would matter in such borrowing.
When mediating or engaging in collaborative law with LGBT clients, lawyers need to consider that rules don’t apply clearly in their relationships. This provides challenges as well as opportunities. Same-sex couples may have been together for 20 years, but may only be married five years because they were simply unable to do so any earlier. For purposes of financial support, lawyers can work with couples to take into consideration all the years of a committed relationship. In mediation, lawyers in LGBT cases can “reach agreements true to family,” even in jurisdictions where parentage isn’t recognized.
Expert panelists of the program included Frederick Hertz, Deborah Wald and Kate Kendell. The program was sponsored by the Section of Dispute Resolution.