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LGBTQ laws: Not all states created equal

The 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was a huge win for same-sex couples. Finally, all states were required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and all marriages were recognized nationwide regardless of the jurisdiction in which the couple wed.

However, nearly four years after the Supreme Court settled same-sex marriage, inequalities still exist in many states - especially when it comes to family law.


Adoption presents a unique set of issues since the ruling for marriage equality. A 2016 Supreme Court decision struck down a same-sex adoption ban in Mississippi - the last state to have such a law - ensuring adoption by same-sex couples is legal in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Thirteen states, including New Jersey, currently protect against same-sex discrimination adoption.


With the Obergefell decision, same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. But the issue of divorce is more complicated and largely falls to the state.

In cases of alimony or spousal support, a complicating factor is determining how long the marriage lasted. In states that did not allow same-sex marriage prior to 2015, the judge may determine that 2015 is when the marriage began and not credit time spent in a civil union or domestic partnership.


Divorcing same-sex couples with children can face many more issues with custody than a straight couple might. It is often wise to go to mediation rather than litigate custody to work out a plan that's fair to both parents and the children. But if mediation is not an option, particular circumstances may determine custodial rights.

If one parent has a biological connection to the child, but the other parent adopted the child, a judge may often grant a biological parent sole or primary custody while granting visitation rights to the other parent.

For children jointly adopted, the case proceeds much like a heterosexual couple's divorce. The judge will take the needs of the child into consideration when determining a parenting arrangement.

If the child has only one legal parent, the other spouse has no legal rights to the child in most states. If the legal parent does not wish to split custody, the nonlegal parent will most likely have no options. Generally, there is also no financial obligation for the nonlegal parent.

Know your rights

While New Jersey has numerous laws in place that protect the rights of same-sex couples and LGBTQ parents, laws vary widely from state to state. This can create complications and confusion, so it is important for you to know your rights in your local jurisdiction to protect yourself. The fight for marriage equality was won, but the struggle for fairness in other areas continues. 

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