Waldlaw Blog

Monday, February 26, 2007

Adoption Tax Credit Update

For those of you doing adoptions, here are the new numbers for the federal adoption tax credit for 2007: Beginning in 2007, the credit allowed for an adoption of a child with special needs is $11,390 and the maximum credit allowed for other adoptions is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $11,390. The credit begins to phase out if you have modified adjusted gross income of $170,820 or more and is completely phased out if you have modified adjusted gross income of $210,820 or more. Happy adopting!!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And Now A Word From ... Kate Kendell

I am a lifetime member of the Kate Kendell Fan Club. For those of you unfamiliar with Kate, she is the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and a bold and brilliant advocate for LGBT families. It has been an honor to work alongside her these many years, and articles like this remind me why we all treasure her so much. Read on.... Out for Justice Breaking Up Is Hard To Do Dear Friend of NCLR, Last Friday, we received a devastating decision from the Utah Supreme Court, holding that non-biological parents have no standing even to seek visitation with their children. The majority opinion now makes it virtually impossible for a co-parent to ever be granted an ongoing relationship with a child that he or she helped raise unless the biological parent consents to that ongoing contact. Unfortunately in this case, the biological mother did not give her consent. It is a simple fact: bad break-ups happen. We've all shared heartache and heartbreak with our friends, taken sides, offered our couches and guest rooms as refuge, and we've acted as matchmakers when our friends were ready to move on. It's also a simple fact that break-ups are painful. What is first a private dispute becomes a rift between friends. When courts and judges become involved, that rift grows larger and unwieldy, and can damage the hard-won protections of countless LGBT families. This is even more painful when children are involved. We spend enormous resources to have our families recognized and protected, but in the midst of tremendous legal accomplishments, many families still face huge legal hurdles. And sometimes the enemy is not a homophobic judge or institution, but our ex with whom we were once madly in love. When we end our relationships in bitterness and when we use homophobic law to further our personal interests, it endangers all LGBT families. A bad break-up which evolves into a custody dispute could threaten the legal gains in many states, as well as create harrowing precedents in states where family protections do not exist, such as Utah and Ohio. Roughly half of NCLR's docket consists of representing non-biological parents in precedent-setting custody disputes. One of the most profound moments I've had in my tenure at NCLR was representing a co-parent in Ohio, Marla Liston. After sixteen years, Marla and her partner ended their relationship. At the time, they had a three year old son, but after their break up, Marla's rights as a parent were challenged in court by her former partner. The last time Marla visited her son, it was on Mother's Day. He was four years old. In 1997, the Ohio Appellate Court dismissed Marla's motion for visitation, ruling that she was not a "parent" as defined by the Ohio Revised Code. The Court also dismissed the argument that the non-biological mother had a constitutionally protected relationship with her son and that the son's interest in continuing his relationship with her was also constitutionally protected. The decision read, "No United States Supreme Court case, nor our Ohio Supreme Court, has extended this protection to include family relationships stemming from a homosexual union." Six months later, Marla called me in tears. She had been shopping downtown, and emerged from a store to see her son on the street. He was sitting in a stroller, and he wasn't with his other mother, but with two women who were once family friends. When Marla met her son's eyes, she saw instant recognition. He started calling for her, "Mommy," repeating her name over and over again, each time his voice louder and with more urgency. Her former friends steered the stroller away, but Marla rushed towards them and raised her hand in an attempt to stop them for just a moment. She knelt down to her son and said, "Mommy can't be with you right now, but I am always with you and I will always love you." Marla hasn't seen her son since. That was ten years ago, and I truly believed the days of that kind of loss were behind us, but the Utah Supreme Court decision serves as a powerful reminder that our work is nowhere close to being done. When we bring children into the world, when we dream of creating families with our partners, we are doing so together, as couples, as families, and as a community. We educate our extended family, our coworkers, and our friends about what it means to be same-sex parents. We raise our children with great love and care, explaining to them that they have two mothers or two fathers. But this carefully constructed cocoon shatters when we rip our children from one parent, when we rob them of their full families, when we collude with homophobic laws. I understand the enormous challenges we face and the toll exacted on our families by living in a climate often marked by intolerance, bigotry, and fear. I know we can change the climate and I know we can one day win some measure of dignity and protection for our families. But we need to examine how we ourselves contribute to the challenges faced by our community, and how we—in the middle of heartbreak—must nevertheless preserve the integrity of our families—and our own souls. Sincerely, Kate

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Two Americas

In his 2004 presidential campaign, John Edwards talked about two Americas: "Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America - middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president." For the children of lesbian and gay families, there truly are two Americas. In one America -- represented by states like Washington, California, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania -- children born to lesbian and gay couples get to have two legal parents, and get to have their relationships with these parents protected even if the parents' relationship ends in an ugly break-up. Children of lesbian and gay families are entitled to child support from two parents not one; they cannot be torn from a primary parent based solely on absence of biology or adoption. They are not "illegitimate" in the eyes of the law. In the other America -- most recently represented by a decision of the Utah Supreme Court yesterday denying visitation to a nonbiological lesbian mother -- children born to lesbian and gay couples are vulnerable to having one parent torn from them because the parents no longer can agree, and whichever parent holds the biology trump card wins. Children who were conceived by two people who unequivocally intended to raise them in a unified, two-parent family -- children who in fact were raised by two parents for months and years of their lives -- end up with only one parent. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of illegitimacy: "We have held that under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment a State may not create a right of action in favor of children for the wrongful death of a parent and exclude illegitimate children from the benefit of such a right. Similarly, we have held that illegitimate children may not be excluded from sharing equally with other children in the recovery of workmen's compensation benefits for the death of their parent. Under these decisions, a State may not invidiously discriminate against illegitimate children by denying them substantial benefits accorded children generally. We therefore hold that once a State posits a judicially enforceable right on behalf of children to needed support from their natural fathers there is no constitutionally sufficient justification for denying such an essential right to a child simply because her natural father has not married her mother. For a State to do so is 'illogical and unjust.' ...." (Citations omitted.) Gomez v. Perez, 93 S.Ct. 872, 874-75 (1973). Isn't it time to admit that if it is ïllogical and unjust" to deny benefits to children based on the marital status of their parents, it is equally ïllogical and unjust" to deny benefits to children based on whether they are born to a father and mother, two fathers, or two mothers? In what sense does it matter to a young child whether they are being denied contact with and support from a person they believed was their father or a person they believed was their mother? Either way, the child is left vulnerable based on a societal prejudice that has far outlived its time. I agree with John Edwards that there are two Americas. But the divisions between those two Americas encompass far more than the class divisions to which he referred. It is time to name and heal these divisions, in the interests of America's children.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith and the Paternity Battle over her Baby

Headline news: Anna Nicole Smith just dropped dead in Florida at the age of 39. Sad, no? Not that I've ever given two hoots about Anna Nicole Smith, but to die at 39 really is very sad. And what's even more sad is that she leaves behind a baby girl, born September 7 in the Bahamas, and an ugly paternity battle. From everything I've read about the situation, it appears that Anna's ex-boyfriend is claiming paternity of the child; but that Anna named her attorney as the father and ran off with him to the Bahamas and entered into an unofficial marriage with him there. It appears probable that the boyfriend is, in fact, the biological father. My question is: is that really what matters most at this point?? Here is a 5 month old baby whose mother has just died. Frankly, I don't think her biological paternity is what matters the most to her right now. What she needs -- and needs RIGHT NOW -- is someone to love her and feed her and bathe her and take care of her. And that "someone" could be her genetic father or a friend or a lawyer or ... you get my point. What I'm very curious to see, now that this whole mess is no longer going to be about ANNA but is truly going to be about baby Dannielynn, is whether these two men are going to continue fighting for this baby. I mean, speculation for some time has been that Anna named her lawyer as the father to try to get her ex-boyfriend out of her life. But now she's dead. (Sorry, I don't mean to be callous, but she IS dead, right?) So as I said, it's not about her anymore. I hope, for Dannielynn's sake, that at least ONE of these two potential fathers continues to fight for her now that Anna is dead. And frankly, I would be glad to see her with the one who wants her the most and shows himself the best able to provide her with the care she needs, regardless of biological paternity. Biology is not destiny, is it? Anyway, right now there's a baby to take care of....

Friday, February 02, 2007

Things Get Ugly in Michigan

Every once in a while, when I'm advising clients about how careful they need to be about protecting their families before venturing out into the world, I think I'm being paranoid. After all, it's 2007 and lesbian and gay families are all over the media and we've made a lot of progress, right? Then I see an article like this, and I remember why I have to advise clients to do seemingly ridiculous things like adopt their own legal children. WARNING: The following news article may contain material that is upsetting to anyone with a sense of justice (sorry, I couldn't resist) Court Of Appeals Voids Michigan Domestic Partner Benefits by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff Posted: February 2, 2007 - 11:00 am ET (Lansing, Michigan) The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage prevents public institutions from providing benefits to same-sex partners of employees. "We strongly disagree with the court's decision today and plan on appealing to the Michigan Supreme Court," said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. "It was never the intention of Michigan voters who approved the marriage amendment to take health care benefits away from Michigan families." Soon after the amendment was passed in 2004 Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), acting on the advice of Attorney General Mike Cox (R), terminated domestic partner benefits that had been won by state unions. Cox also directed University of Michigan and Wayne State University and the city of Kalamazoo to shut down their benefits programs to same-sex couples. Twenty-two same-sex couples filed suit against the state in March. One partner of each of the 22 couples works for the state of Michigan. Although Granholm removed the benefits from the contracts she disagreed with Cox's interpretation of the amendment and in July she entered the case on the side of the gay couples. Cox was obligated to argue the case against benefits as Attorney General. In September 2005 Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk said health care benefits are benefits of employment, not marriage (story) and Cox's office appealed. The three-judge Court of Appeal panel overturned Draganchuk's ruling. The constitutional amendment defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and is the only agreement that can be recognized as a marriage "or similar union for any purpose." It was those six words that led to the legal battle. "The marriage amendment's plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," the court said.