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The Legal Side of LGBTQ Relationships

Major recent shifts in Iowa legislation and case law have led to expanded rights and benefits for LGBTQ individuals. Now, the task lies in harnessing and taking advantage of that equality. LGBTQ individuals face a number of challenges that cisgender, heterosexual individuals have never had to stop and think about. This is especially true for personal issues, whether that be marriage and separation issues, adoption issues, estate planning issues, or name and gender changes.

Marriage and Separation

There are special considerations that an LGBTQ couple should take into account. For starters, you can marry now. That's old news- you've be able to do that for the better part of a decade. However, it was quite exciting at the time. There are many couples who went and got married that day, just because they could. Now, certainly, more reckless things have been done, but it should come as no surprise to you to find out that many of those couples are now regretting their spur-of-the-moment decision. For instance, many LGBTQ individuals who got married that day had pre-existing civil unions either with the same partner or a completely different one. Since both relationships are legally binding, they both have to be legally "undone". This can be further compounded by domestic partnerships being established in other states, which may also need to be undone.

Parentage and Adoption

In Iowa, if a child is born to a married couple, both of those parents' names go on the birth certificate, even if a child is born by IVF. This is generally only applicable when a biological female (Parent A) gives birth to a child via IVF and Parent B's (spouse) name is placed on the birth certificate as well. This is the gold standard as far as establishing parentage goes. No adoptions need to happen; no papers need to be signed. However, not all states are as understanding as Iowa. If that couple decides to move south, another state may not recognize non-bio Parent B as a legal parent. Many other states only recognize biological parents as a child's legal parent. In this situation, that couple would want to do a second-parent adoption to protect non-bio Parent B's parental rights. Adoptions are also generally necessary for both parents even if a surrogacy contract exists and either egg, sperm, or both were used from the intended parents.

Gender and Name Changes

Name changes, at least in Iowa, for an LGBTQ individual are really no different than name changes are for anyone else. It will require some paperwork and a hearing, but otherwise is pretty standard. The judge may very well ask why you want the name change, in which case, you can answer honestly. They mostly want to make sure people are changing their names willy-nilly.

Gender changes, on the other hand, could be interesting. The topic hasn't been taken up with the Supreme Court yet, so there are no definitive answers for lawyers to look to besides what is written in the law. Currently, the Iowa Dept. of Public Health requires an affidavit from your treating physician stating that your sex designation has been permanently changed by surgery or other treatment. Surgery is obvious, but what's less obvious is what "other treatment" means. Some transgender individuals, for a multitude of reasons, decide to do no actual medical treatment. If you've undergone no surgery, no hormone therapy, and no other medical treatment, what's left? Does individual psychological therapy constitute treatment in those cases? We don't yet have an answer, but as long as an affidavit from a physician is obtained, we forge ahead. The federal government does not have such stringent requirements. They only require a certified letter from the physician who treated you or evaluated your medical history, stating that you have had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.

Estate Planning

Many LGBTQ couples who have been together for decades didn't run out and get married the first chance they got. For many reasons, couples decide not to marry, but still want to make sure their partner is cared for after they've passed. You've probably heard of partners doing an adoption (partner A adopts partner B). This, mainly, helps people avoid certain taxes upon one partner's death. That may be the right answer for you. However, other options exist for LGBTQ couples. For instance, setting up a trust with all of the partners' various assets may be beneficial. Perhaps each partner needs to set up their own trust. If two partners aren't married, how does one receive military benefits, or health benefits from the other? The needs of individuals in this respect vary widely, and need to be considered appropriately. Make sure you hire an attorney who can help to pinpoint and tackle your specific needs.

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