As the world continues to progress towards equality for all, LGBTQ+ couples and families still face unique challenges when it comes to family law. Despite significant strides in recent years, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, not all states have extended equal legal rights to LGBTQ+ couples and families. In North Carolina, where same-sex marriage was only legalized in 2014, there are still many legal hurdles for LGBTQ+ families to navigate.
One of the biggest challenges faced is the lack of legal recognition of their relationships. Although same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states, not all states have extended equal legal rights to same-sex couples. In some states, LGBTQ+ couples may face discrimination in areas such as adoption, child custody, and property division in the event of a breakup.
In North Carolina, same-sex couples are legally recognized as spouses and are entitled to the same legal rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples. However, couples still face challenges in areas such as adoption, surrogacy, and child custody.
Adoption is one of the most common ways that LGBTQ+ couples start families. In North Carolina, adoption is allowed by unmarried couples, including same-sex couples. However, the process can be more difficult for same-sex couples. In some cases, same-sex couples have faced discrimination and have been denied the right to adopt. This discrimination is often based on the unfounded belief that LGBTQ+ parents are not capable of providing a stable and loving home for children.
Fortunately, there are legal resources available to help couples navigate the adoption process. For example, the Human Rights Campaign provides a list of LGBTQ+ friendly adoption agencies and attorneys in North Carolina. It is also important for couples to have experienced legal representation to ensure their rights are protected throughout the adoption process.
Surrogacy is another option for LGBTQ+ couples who want to start a family, but it can be complicated. In North Carolina, surrogacy agreements are allowed, but there are many legal requirements that must be met in order to ensure the agreement is valid and enforceable. For example, the agreement must be in writing and signed by all parties involved, and the surrogate must be represented by independent legal counsel.
This can be especially challenging for same-sex couples, who may have to navigate complex legal systems in order to start a family. In addition, there are no laws in North Carolina that address the rights of egg donors or sperm donors. This can create additional complications for couples who use donor eggs or sperm in the surrogacy process.
Child custody is another area where LGBTQ+ families may face challenges. In North Carolina, custody decisions are made based on the best interests of the child, regardless of the parents' sexual orientation. However, some judges may still hold biases against LGBTQ+ parents, and it is important for these families to have experienced legal representation to ensure their rights are protected.
For example, in the case of Bremer v. Bremer, which dates back to 1995, a lesbian mother named Sharon Bottoms had a child with her partner, Marianne Bremer. When the couple separated, Bottoms was denied custody of her son by a judge who cited her sexual orientation as evidence of immoral behavior that was harmful to the child.
The case drew national attention and sparked a debate about the rights of LGBTQ+ parents. The judge's decision was later overturned on appeal, and Bottoms was awarded custody of her son. However, the case highlighted the challenges that LGBTQ+ parents may face in custody battles, particularly in states where there is still widespread discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals.
Since the Bremer case, there have been many other legal battles fought by LGBTQ+ parents to protect their rights and their families. These cases have helped to push for greater legal recognition of LGBTQ+ families and to challenge the biases and discrimination that many LGBTQ+ individuals face in the legal system.
Finally, estate planning is crucial for LGBTQ+ couples and families, particularly in North Carolina where there is no legal recognition of common law marriage. Without proper estate planning documents such as wills and powers of attorney, LGBTQ+ partners may not have any legal rights to make decisions for each other or inherit property in the event of a partner's death.
This can be especially important for LGBTQ+ couples who have children together. Without proper estate planning documents, a surviving partner may not have any legal rights to care for their children or make decisions on their behalf. This can be particularly challenging in situations where one partner is the biological parent of the children, but the other partner has no legal rights to the children without proper estate planning.
In addition, couples may face additional challenges in estate planning due to the lack of legal recognition of their relationships. For example, without legal recognition of their relationship, LGBTQ+ partners may not be able to access Social Security survivor benefits or pension benefits.
Fortunately, there are steps that LGBTQ+ couples can take to protect their rights and their families. One important step is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who is familiar with the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ couples and families. This can help ensure that proper estate planning documents are in place to protect their rights and their families in the event of incapacity or death.
Another important step is to create a family care plan that outlines the care and custody of children in the event of the death of one or both parents. This can include appointing a guardian for the children and outlining their wishes for the children's upbringing.
Overall, LGBTQ+ couples and families face unique challenges when it comes to family law. While progress has been made towards equality for all, there is still work to be done to ensure that LGBTQ+ families have equal legal rights and protections. In North Carolina, these challenges can be particularly daunting. It is important for LGBTQ+ families to have knowledgeable legal representation to help navigate these challenges and ensure their rights are protected.