Recent news out of a Texas family court has many people discussing how far this country still needs to go in recognizing the rights of same-sex couples and same-sex parents, and has Massachusetts lawyers reminding themselves that their clients are better off safe than sorry.
As reported by the Advocate, a heterosexual couple in the state of Texas divorced after having three children. The mother was awarded custody of the children. The father, William Flowers, eventually re-married Jim Evans, a man, in Connecticut, and they traveled back to Texas to live.
After the father’s re-marriage, he attempted to obtain custody of his children in a Texas family court. Texas bans the recognition of same-sex relationships, including Flowers’s Connecticut marriage to Evans. The Judge, on top of denying the father custody, ordered that the father could never leave his children with any man who isn’t part of the family without Mother’s permission. The Judge eventually changed the wording to read “any person not related to the children”, but this superficial change did nothing to assuage the GBLT media, GBLT activist groups, and lawyers all over the country. It especially did nothing to ease the pain and indignity felt by Flowers, Evans, and their family.
This story out of Texas is a harsh warning to gay and lesbian families in states, including Massachusetts, that recognize same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting rights. It is also a reminder to attorneys of the critical importance of making sure clients put in place all possible safeguards in order to protect their families.
Same-sex families in Massachusetts need to take every legal step available to protect their marriage and their children, so that in the event that they, their spouse, their property, or a loved one ends up within the jurisdiction of a hostile state like Texas, their relationships and property will be protected.
Important legal protections available to same-sex couples (and opposite-sex couples) include preparing a comprehensive estate plan, with property and healthcare directives, preparing domestic partnership or property ownership agreements, preparing co-parenting agreements, and petitioning for a decree of adoption of their spouse or partner’s children, among others.
The current non-uniformity of patchwork state laws concerning the recognition of same-sex relationships and families makes it all the more important for gay and lesbian families to start a relationship with a GLBTQ family practitioner and take full advantage of the legal protections offered to them. While it is infuriating and unjust that same-sex couples must endure the cost and complexity of additional planning to protect their families, it is better to be safe than sorry.