She was married in Washington, D.C. But Florida didn’t recognize her marriage. When her lesbian partner left her to marry a man, there were issues — but only for her.
Florida was okay with her partner being married to two different people in two different states because, well, one of those marriages doesn’t exist, according to Florida law. This isn’t normal, and states don’t usually allow bigamy.
The case is still ongoing, so Orlando attorney Gideon Alper couldn’t discuss it in much more detail. But it’s one of those cases he thinks of that portrays the legal complexities that same-sex couples face in Florida, one of many cases he’s handled at his private Orlando-practice, a practice which he said can serve couples from around the state, and often does. From Miami to the panhandle, Alper’s clients need help with estate planning and same-sex adoption, mostly, his two areas of expertise.
“A lot of people think of estate planning as death planning. It’s partly that, but it’s really also protecting your relationship while it’s going on and protecting children,” Alper told SFGN. “Same-sex adoption is an interesting area because it was illegal here until just a few years ago. Now we have single gay people wanting to adopt — it’s a different process than if you’re married.”
For a same-sex couple, an adoption is called a second parent adoption. The difference between this and a stepparent adoption, what heterosexual adoptions are called, is the paperwork, namely. Stepparent adoptions are streamlining, Alper said. There are less forms, no home study, and it’s quick. A second parent adoption is harder, Alper explained, using himself and his partner as an example.
“I would have to have a home study and fill out all these forms,” he said, adding that it’s doable, though, and both partner can become the parents of the child. “A lot of couples don’t even know it’s an option. It’s important for the emotional benefits, but also protects the child.”
Gideon Alper’s Domestic Partnership Package
These are the five things every same-sex couples should do to get started on protecting both themselves and/or their adopted children.
Designation of Health Care Surrogate
This lets you designate your partner to make healthcare decision for you if you become incapacitated. You can designate anyone you like. Having that document ready and prepared allows the partners to care for each other.
Durable Power of Attorney
This lets your partner take over your financial and healthcare affairs if you become incapacitated or maybe just because you’re out of the country.
Declaration of Pre-Need Guardian
You’re declaring someone to be your legal guardian if you need someone to be that, before you do. In Florida, being a guardian comes with some requirements. It prevents the court from designating someone else, like siblings or parents. Without that, the court can’t assume your partner wants to be your guardian, as it doesn’t recognize the relationship as legitimate.
A will by itself is not enough to protect a relationship compared to having all of the items.
This lets you say how you want to be treated if you end up in a hospital or debilitated.
When both parents are parents of a child, Alper said, the child is that much more protected.
“If I wanted to pick my son from school, for example, will the school recognize me as a parents?” He asked. “What if my kid gets sent to the doctor? A second parent adoption legalizes that aspect.”
However, it’s important to remember that such an adoption has absolutely no effect on the relationship between the couple — their legal status doesn’t change one bit. Alper said that this is expected, as it’s the same way a heterosexual is treated — an adoption not affecting the couple’s legal status.
In order to achieve couple-specific rights, therefore, it’s important to delve into estate planning.
“Estate planning is a great idea for any couple, gay or straight,” he said. “The key difference that I tell my clients — a court will go out of their way to recognize a married couple. They’re married, they’ll say, so the wife can make decision for the husband. But Florida doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, and you never know what might happen.”
Alper grew up in Orlando and left for school at UC Irvine in South California and Emory Law School in Atlanta, earning an economics undergraduate degree and a law degree, respectively.
It was during school at Emory that Alper started www.domesticpartnershipflorida.com, a blog dedicated to informing people about their rights in the state. It’s been running since 2007 and Alper posts new pieces every few days. The topics at the site are gay adoption, domestic partnership, dissolution and divorce, gay marriage, and wills and estate planning. Alper started the blog because he felt it would service a group of people who needed the information and couldn’t easily get it anywhere else.
“There was information about how the law applied to same-sex couples, but it was hard to find and often inaccurate. Many blogs explained how laws should be changed, but not how to live with them,” he said, adding that he and his partner just want to live their lives. “A lot of people just don’t understand what’s legal and what isn’t. A lot of lawyers only know other lawyers, and assume people know a lot more than they do.”
Alper just wants his clients and the general public to be informed. That’s his end goal, from the practice he runs alone in Orlando.
“My goal is to give people the correct information,” he said. “It’s easy to find out what the Democratic Party is hoping to change, but it’s harder to find out what you can do today.”