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Same Sex Couples: Three Areas of Family Law Affected by Recent Law Changes

Congratulations!  We are thrilled North Carolina has finally recognized your civil rights and allowed you to marry the one you love.  By allowing same-sex couples to marry, the recent court decisions have made a huge impact on North Carolina citizens.  But the ability to marry isn’t the only thing that has been affected.  

It will take some time to navigate all of the legal questions that have come up as a result.  Until then, here is some information regarding the three areas in family law that has an immediate effect on you.

The three main areas in family law that have been affected are: 1) marriage; 2) divorce; and 3) step-parent adoptions.

Marriage

You can get married! Congratulations!  Just a few things here.  Once married, you will have the same legal rights as any other married couple.  For instance, any property in North Carolina bought during the marriage, will be owned by you and your spouse as tenants by the entireties.  This means you and your spouse will own the property as a single legal entity.  There are several legal ramifications to owning the property as a single legal entity.  Namely, a creditor of just one of the spouses can not attach the debt to the property.  It would take a creditor of both spouses to do that.  This is just one of the many rights spouses in North Carolina enjoy.  To learn more about how marriage as a legal status will affect you, speak to a family law attorney who will be able to properly advise you on the change.

Divorce

It’s an unfortunate reality that many marriages will end in divorce.   Since marriage has been recognized, same-sex divorce has as well.  North Carolina has been slow to join the growing number of states which recognize same-sex marriage.  Before the court ruling, couples who had gotten married in other states, moved to North Carolina and subsequently realized they needed to divorce but were unable to do so.  Their status has been in limbo and they have been unable to move on with their lives.  Now, they can take advantage of North Carolina divorce laws, end that chapter of their lives for good, and take positive steps for the future.

Additionally, marriage entitles spouses to all sorts of legal rights especially having to do with property and support.  When a marriage ends, one of the spouses may be entitled to support payments and both are entitled to an equitable division of the marital assets and debts.  When couples start contemplating divorce, they are often blindsided by some of the things the law entitles their spouse to.  It’s a good idea for any couple, but especially same-sex couples who have not had the opportunity to contemplate these issues before to speak to a family law attorney and be advised on their legal rights and options before the separation process begins.

Step-Parent Adoption

One of the ways an adult can adopt a child in North Carolina is by adopting the child of his or her spouse.  This applies if he or she is not already the legal parent of the child.  Before the recent same-sex marriage decisions, same-sex couples were not able to adopt this way because they were not allowed to be spouses.  All of that has changed now and married same-sex couples may adopt under North Carolina law the same way.  This area of the law is unique and it is recommended that you speak with an attorney already familiar with step-parent adoptions.

All of the areas of law covered in this article are extremely complex.  As such, this article cannot be taken as legal advice.  We at Batch, Poore and Williams, have experience handling these complex legal issues and would be happy to speak with you further and advise you on your particular circumstances.   Please contact us for more information.

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