LGBTQ Parental Rights

It’s no secret that laws are biased against folks who don’t fit the cultural majority – whether you’re LGBTQ, a person of color, female, or differently-abled, you have probably experienced this bias at one point or another.

In Colorado, family laws favor those in heterosexual relationships. For example, a couple who both identify as female may choose one person to carry and birth the child. When the child is born that mother automatically has a legal relationship to her child. But what about the other mother? And why does it matter? Here are some things you need to know about parental rights for non-biological parents in same-sex couples.

Why does it matter?

The issue of parents’ legal status is not typically questioned in normal day- to- day life. The main situations where a parent’s legal status would be raised would be (1) if the parents were to separate or get divorced or (2) if the other parent were to die before the child turned 18. In both situations, the court would need to determine who has parental responsibilities for the child, including decision-making authority and parenting time (custody). 

When two parents get divorced, they must decide how to co-parent their child – either by agreement or through a court hearing (trial). In that situation, the biological mother could theoretically call into question the other mother’s legal status and therefore her rights to the child.  

This would also come into play if one mother were to die while the child was still underage, the other mother would assume full parental responsibilities. However, other people, such as the birth mother’s parents, could try to gain parental responsibilities for the child through the court process and could challenge the non-biological mothers legal status.

Solutions

If you are a parent or soon-to-be parent who is concerned about your rights, here are some things you can do.

  1. Make Sure You’re on the Birth Certificate!

If you are a non-biological parent, you can get on your child’s birth certificate in a couple of ways. The first and easiest way is to fill out a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage form in the hospital when your child is born. This form establishes a legal presumption of parentage in Colorado and is enforceable in every state. The second way is to complete a second-parent adoption. This is a simplified adoption process that allows a parent who may have come into the child’s life after birth to establish a legal relationship to the child and be added to their birth certificate.

  1. Make a Marital or Cohabitation Agreement

Marital agreements (also known as post-nuptual agreements) are agreements you can make with your spouse about what would happen if you get divorced or if one spouse dies. Cohabitation agreements are basically the same thing but for folks who are not married. While these agreements typically apply to financial assets and debts, you could also make an agreement recognizing each other as your child’s parents. And, while you’re at it, you may as well do some financial and practical planning that will benefit your family. *Note that you cannot make an agreement about child support or custody.

  1. Make a Will

You probably think about wills as a way to let your family and friends know who you want to get your stuff when you die. But if you have children, you can also set up a guardianship provision for your child or children. Same-sex couples can use this to make clear that the other parent should be the child or children’s legal guardian. Bonus because it’s always a good idea to have a will – especially if you have a nontraditional family.

A Note to LGBTQ Families

With everything going on in politics these days, those of us in groups that have historically been oppressed feel especially vulnerable.

Nobody can change the fact that family is family – whether you are bonded by blood or by love.

Consider these legal planning tools to protect your family. If you live in Colorado, book a free 20-minute consultation with me to discuss protecting your parental rights.

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.

6 Dos and Don’ts of Paying for Your Divorce

Divorces are like having your car break down. They are wildly inconvenient, expensive, and affect every aspect of your life. Whether you’re hiring a lawyer to represent you fully or managing the case on your own with some help from a lawyer, you will likely spend at least a thousand dollars if thousands of dollars on your case.

So how do people afford it? Here are six dos and don’ts for paying for your family law case:

  1. DO pay your fees and costs with money from your bank account or charge your credit card. Even though bank accounts are generally marital assets and credit cards are marital debts, Colorado courts have held that you can use them to pay for your legal fees and court costs. If one person spends more than the other, that may ultimately be accounted for in the final agreement or court order regarding the distribution of assets and debts.
  2. DON’T expect the other person to pay for your fees and costs. Unless you have a premarital or marital agreement that says otherwise, you are responsible for your own fees and costs, except in some rare instances.
  3. DO borrow money from family members, friends, banks, or other reliable people and institutions. The reality is that not everyone has cash or credit at their disposal to fund their divorce. You may need to ask your friends, family, bank, or another reliable institution for a loan. Asking for help can be tough, but know that you are not the only person it this position.
  4. DON’T sell your valuable belongings or liquidate your investment assets until after you have reached an agreement or the court has decided who those items actually belong to. It may be tempting to sell valuable items like sports equipment, cars, jewelry or to cash out that 401k to help with your cash flow, but you should try your best to resist the temptation. Even if you always thought that an item or account was yours, there is a high likelihood that the court will say it is a marital asset, meaning that it is subject to division through the divorce process. If you sell those items without the consent of the other person, the court may interpret that as dissipating marital assets.
  5. DO make sure you hire a lawyer who you can afford and who can explain to you how they charge their fees. Part of a lawyer’s job (or their support professionals’ job) is explaining to clients how they charge their fees and at what rate. You should hire a lawyer whose fees you understand and believe you will be able to pay. Most lawyers won’t be able to tell you how much your case will cost up front, but they will be able to give you a general idea and explain what types of things can make your case more expensive.
  6. DON’T hire the lawyer whose rates you don’t understand. Most lawyers will admit that they are not mathematicians. As a result, we often avoid conversations about numbers. However, if your lawyer cannot clearly explain to you how they charge their fees and at what rate, that is a sign that you will probably have other communication challenges down the road.

At Bluebird Law, we explain our fees up front, bill on a flat rate no matter how much time it takes, and never send you a surprise bill at the end of the month. That way, you pay for what you need, and not for what you don’t. If you’re in Colorado and you need help with your family law case, schedule your free consultation with Shannon today.

This article is informational and does not purport to give legal advice.

4 Ways to Save Court Costs

Everyone knows that going to court is expensive – there are filing fees, court fees, copying fees, mediation fees, and sometimes fees for third party neutrals. As part of Bluebird Law’s How to Save $ in Your Family Law Series, here are 4 helpful tips for saving money on costs:

  1. Apply for waived filing fees. If you meet the state’s income requirements, which in Colorado is generally $3,203 for a family of four with less than $1,500 worth of assets, you may be eligible for waived filing fees. To ask the court to waive your filing fees, complete a JDF 205 – or Motion to File Without Payment of Filing fees – which you can find online. Be sure to read the court’s instructions before you fill out the JDF 205.
  2. Collaborate with the other person. Similar to many other areas of law, there are really no winners in family law cases. You can either risk going to court and having the judge order something that is completely the opposite of what you wanted or you can work with the other person to come to an agreement that works for both of you. If you have a hard time communicating with the other person, one way to do this is mediation, which is an out of court process that is facilitated by a mediator who is familiar with family law and with judges in your area. If you agree on one or more things, the mediator can draft a memorandum of understanding, which you can file with the court and ask the court to enter as an order. In Colorado, the Office of Dispute Resolution features mediators who charge a reasonable rate of $150 per hour. You can also reach an agreement with the other person without mediation and ask the court to enter your agreement as a court order. The more issues you can settle with the other person, the more time, money, and energy you will save.
  3. In cases with children, ask the judge to appoint a CLR instead of a CFI. In cases involving children, the court may appoint a Child and Family Investigator  – or CFI – to make a report regarding what is in the children’s best interests. CFIs generally cost about $1,500 per person and take several months to make a detailed written report. Child Legal Representatives – or CLRs – on the other hand, have a similar role, generally cost less, and typically work faster because they advocate for the children orally to the court rather than making a written report. If you think the judge is going to appoint a CFI in your case, consider asking for a CLR instead. Note, if you meet the state’s indigency guidelines, you will likely qualify for a free CFI or CLR.
  4. Find an attorney who is focused on resolution. All people approach problems differently based on their outlooks and their personalities – and attorneys are no different. If you decide to hire an attorney in your case, make sure you ask the attorney about their approach to resolution. Attorneys who present as “bulldogs” or promise to “fight for you” in family law cases are generally not focused on resolution and will likely drive up your costs by causing more conflict or by aggravating the conflict in your case.

Bluebird Law offers resolution-focused legal services to self-represented people all over Colorado. Recognizing that there is a time and place to vigorously advocate for our clients’ legal rights, we strive to approach all cases with a better and longer lasting resolution in mind. Schedule your free 20-minute consultation with an attorney today to discuss your case.

This article is informational and does not purport to give legal advice.

4 Ways to Save $ on Attorney Fees

For most people, the court process is unfamiliar, intimidating, and sometimes confusing. A lawyer will not only help you navigate the process, but will also educate you about the strategy, potential outcomes, and risks involved in your case. Having at least some access to a lawyer can make all the difference in how your case will turn out…but how do people afford it? As part of Bluebird Law’s How to Save $ in Your Family Law Series, here are 4 helpful tips for saving money on attorney fees:

  1. Check if you qualify for a free lawyer. If you meet the state’s income requirements, which in Colorado is generally $3,203 for a family of four with less than $1,500 worth of assets and you haven’t had a court order yet in your case (AKA it is “pre decree”), you may be eligible for a free attorney through Colorado Legal Services, Alpine Legal Services, or Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic. Volunteer branches of local bar associations such as Metro Volunteer Lawyers in Denver also provide pro bono attorneys for people who meet the low-income requirements. Additionally, if you are a victim of intimate partner violence in your relationship, your local Violence Free Colorado program may be able to offer you free legal counsel and/or support. If you are seeking child support or seeking to enforce a child support order, you will get free representation from Colorado Child Support Enforcement Services.
  2. Get free advice from an attorney at a legal clinic. If you are not one of the very few people who qualifies for free legal representation, you can still get free legal advice from an attorney at a legal clinic. Legal clinics are typically evening events in which attorneys with expertise in family law volunteer to provide advice to attendees and to answer their questions. Some family law clinics around the state of Colorado include Metro Volunteer Lawyers; Alpine Legal Services Ask a Lawyer Clinic; and Weld County Legal Services Ask a Lawyer Clinic. For a clinic near you, contact the self-help center of your local court or your local branch of Colorado Legal Services.
  3. Go to the court’s self-help center for information and resources on how to represent yourself. In Colorado we are lucky to have many online resources about the court process online, including information and court forms. Additionally, each court has a self-help desk staffed with clerks who can give basic information about the forms, the court process, and make referrals to attorneys and nonprofit organizations who can help. Representing yourself has never been so accessible. In fact, the majority of people involved in family law cases in Colorado represent themselves.
  4. Find an attorney who offers DIY or unbundled services. When you have the information you need from the self-help center, you can hire an attorney for services that you need help with such as providing specific legal advice, drafting petitions, responses, motions, financial disclosures, and other documents, appearing on your behalf on a limited basis in court or mediation, and coaching you to represent yourself in court. Hiring an attorney just for the services you need empowers you to manage your own case and keep down your legal costs. Bonus points for attorneys who offer services on a flat fee basis rather than billing by the hour, which allows you to budget for your case and manage your costs.

Bluebird Law offers DIY legal services to self-represented clients all over Colorado on a flat fee basis. Schedule your free consultation today.

This article is informational and does not purport to give legal advice.