As President Obama today expressed his support for gay marriage, the State of Florida continues to define marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman,” leaving homosexuals in loving relationships in a state of legal limbo. Attempting to fill in the gap, many local county and municipal governments are passing “domestic partnership registries” which codify certain rights to heterosexual and homosexual partners. Tampa, for one, has passed an ordinance creating a domestic partnership registry.
Tampa’s domestic partnership law recognizes the following rights for registered partners (to the extent that these rights are not superseded by other laws or ordinances or by contract):
- Healthcare visitation for partners and dependents of partners;
- Healthcare decision-making for incapacitated partners;
- Funeral and burial decisions for partners;
- Notification of partners as family members in cases of emergency;
- Pre-need guardian designation will not be denied based solely on being homosexual; and
- Participation in education decisions for the partner’s dependent children.
Even though Pinellas County and other cities and counties are considering similar domestic partnership registries, the fact is that this is still a patchwork of ordinances. Technically, those partners who register in Tampa will only have the protections provided by the ordinance within the city boundaries.
But, there are still steps that partners can take to protect themselves and their family and honor one another.
First, partners should make sure that they draft and execute proper estate planning documents, such as wills, healthcare surrogates, living wills, etc.
Second, partners should consider adopting each other’s children in a “second parent adoption.” As strange as this may sound, a woman who donates her fertilized egg to her partner may have limited or no rights to time-sharing or making decisions regarding the child outside Tampa unless she adopts the child. However, you should beware that certain counties in Florida are more open to second parent adoptions than others.
Third, partners may want to consider a partnership agreement defining each partner’s rights and responsibilities towards one another. Though some may compare a partnership agreement to a prenuptial agreement, the fact is that a good partnership agreement should be much more comprehensive than a prenup. This is because there are laws on the books in Florida governing each spouse’s rights and responsibilities in a marital relationship, but there really are no similar laws governing each partner’s rights and responsibilities in a same sex partnership.
Fourth, a partner may want to legally change his or her last name to the name of his or her partner. Though names can change automatically as part of a marriage ceremony, those in a same sex relationship must go through court proceedings to change a name.
If you have questions regarding your family rights and you want to meet with a Tampa Bay family law attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or by filling out our consultation form.