The unfortunate truth is that current Florida law is not conducive to recognizing the relationships that develop in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families. However, there are steps that Florida and Tampa Bay LGBT parents can take to boost the recognition of their parental rights.
If LGBT parents are committed to raising a child together and recognizing each parent’s rights, I highly recommend that partners consider adopting each other’s children. This helps form an unbreakable legal bond between the children and each partner. Though the law is not completely settled in this area, the judges in Hillsborough County (including Tampa) are granting adoptions by LGBT partners. What’s more, an adoption attorney located in Hillsborough County (such as myself) can help Florida parents come before Hillsborough County judges no matter where in Florida the parents live.
Co-parenting agreements can be great evidence that LGBT partners intend to parent children together. It can boost the argument that “psychological parenting,” or the formation of a parent-like relationship between a child and a non-legal parent, has occurred and make it or more likely that parental rights will be recognized by Florida’s legal system.
Hyphenated or Unified Last Names
A hyphenated or unified last name can go a long way in demonstrating to the Florida legal system that partners intended to raise children together. For example, if partner 1 is named Jones, and partner 2 is named Smith, it would be helpful to have all partners and children’s last names hyphenated or unified, so that everyone has a last name of Jones-Smith, Smith-Jones, Smones, Jith, etc. Florida has laws to aid in legal name changes.
Domestic Partnership Registries
Tampa and many of the surrounding areas have created domestic partnership registries that can help LGBT partners put the state on notice that they are in a committed relationship. The registry provides partners rights such as healthcare visitation and healthcare decision-making authority in case of incapacity, but it may also have the ancillary effect of providing proof that a family unit and parenting partnership was intended.
Collaborative Family Law
In the event that LGBT parents break up, because Florida law is still in many ways backwards, it is best that partners utilize a private dispute resolution process such as collaborative family law rather than risk their rights not being recognized in court proceedings. In the collaborative model, attorneys are engaged solely to settle disputes privately and are contractually barred from bringing contested issues to be decided by a judge. A facilitator is engaged to keep everyone focussed on the best interests of the family and the children and to keep communication productive. A financial professional is engaged to help untangle the combined assets and debts of the parties (unlike married parties, under Florida and Federal law this is an especially technical undertaking for LGBT partners) and provide options for support.
If you want to learn more about your family law rights and schedule a consultation with a Tampa Bay family law attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our online form.