Areas of Practice

Domestic Partners

Fortunately, legal marriage is now available to same-sex domestic parties in New York State. However, other couples may establish a life together, but choose not to marry. Without the extensive protections available through a marriage contract, these couples -- whether heterosexual or same-sex domestic partners -- lack the legal safety net that protects married partners in a variety of contexts, including illness or death, division of property and debts, child custody, and other matrimonial issues, including divorce.

We have considerable expertise and experience in meeting the needs of couples who are in committed relationships with one another. We work with each couple to achieve as much protection as possible through wills, health care proxies, living wills, durable powers of attorney, releases for access to medical information, directions for disposition of remains, and authorizations to obtain medical care for children. We also facilitate second-parent adoption and assist in negotiating agreements related to alternative reproductive technologies, such as sperm and egg donor agreements.

A variety of existing laws address discrete issues that are important in a domestic partnership; however, the best way to protect individual partners currently available is through a comprehensive domestic partnership agreement. Such an agreement spells out in advance each partner's rights and responsibilities in the relationship, including what happens if there is a separation.

Collaborative law offers a cooperative, respectful way to negotiate a domestic partnership agreement at the outset of a relationship. If there is no agreement in place at the time of a separation, a collaborative law approach can facilitate the negotiation of all relevant issues, including the division of property and debts, arrangements for children, ongoing support, and even who gets the cat. We also offer mediation, in which we act as mediator and each party has a separate attorney outside of the firm who reviews the negotiated agreement and provides independent advice.

Our firm is, and has been, actively involved, both legislatively and through litigation, in pushing the law to better protect domestic partners. Rich Stumbar and Diane Bruns represented plaintiffs in the historic New York State lawsuit that attempted to extend the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples. Although the litigation was unsuccessful, we believe that a loud message was sent to Albany, eventually leading to a legislative confirmation of the right to same sex marriage.

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