Legal Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Parenting & Divorce in WA State

Legally recognized or not, same-sex couples are forming (and will continue to form) loving partnerships. They will have children. Some will also break-up. The Legal Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Parenting & Divorce in Washington State will cover everything you ever wanted to know about the complex and evolving legal issues surrounding same-sex family law in Washington State.

With the complicated landscape that is same-sex family laws in the United States, let’s start with a quick guide to some of the most common LGBT legal issues. These tips will help same-sex couples establish and protect their rights as a family.

Quick Guide: Same-Sex Family Law Tips

Don’t Leave Home Without It: Power of Attorney

Same-sex couples, regardless of marital status, should have Powers of Attorney drafted by an attorney with experience in LGBT estate planning. This gives you and your partner rights in healthcare settings to make decisions for each other, if the other becomes unable to do so.

Always a Good Idea: Co-Parent Adoptions

If you and your same-sex partner, regardless of marital status, have children together, the non-biological parent should legally adopt the children to establish a legal child-parent relationship.

Tax Season: Make Sure Your Accountant Knows What They’re Doing

The complexities of filing federal income tax returns for same-sex couples can be daunting, even for tax professionals. Do yourself a favor and find an accountant or tax attorney who knows the ins and outs of tax returns for same-sex couples. Make sure that he/she doesn’t rely on a software program to do it—most of these programs do not consider the tax consequences of the difference between civil unions, domestic partnerships and marriage. The federal government only recognizes marriages, so couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions should always meet with a tax professional.

Protect Your Partner: Get a Good Estate Plan

Same-sex couples in Washington State should strongly consider estate planning—it is particularly important for couples in a domestic partnership or civil union, who are subject to tax consequences to the transfer of property that don’t apply to married couples. It is also important to have a good estate plan if you live, plan to move to, or have property in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. Estate planning will reduce the potential for issues caused by the state’s lack of recognition of your relationship.

The general rule with estate planning is to review your estate plan every five years. For same-sex couples, they should revisit their state plan whenever there are major changes in the law or major changes in their lives.

Find an Exceptional LGBT Family Law Attorney

Almost every same-sex couple can benefit from consulting a family attorney who is well-versed in issues affecting same-sex families. An LGBT family law attorney can assist you with all of the recommendations above, as well as provide other advice applicable to your particular situation.

In Washington State, the family law firm and publisher of this legal guide, McKinley Irvin, has years of experience providing counsel to same-sex couples in the areas of marriage, domestic partnerships, divorce, custody, estate planning, assisted reproduction, and relationship agreements. Learn more about McKinley Irvin’s LGBT family law services.

Continue to Chapter 1


Glossary of Terms

Civil Union - A civil union is what Vermont originally referred to as their gay “not-quite-marriages,” similar to Washington’s state-registered domestic partnership.

Co-Habitation Agreement - In Washington State, this is a legal document that outlines the intentions of unmarried partners and dictates provisions regarding property and ownership rights if the relationship ends, much like a prenuptial agreement. Typically drafted by a family law or divorce lawyer.

Co-Parent Adoption - Also called second parent adoption or step-parent adoption, a co-parent adoption allows a non-biological parent to legally adopt the biological child of their partner.

Custody - In Washington, neither parent is granted legal “custody” over a child. In a court order called a parenting plan, the state divides “residential time” between parents, and the parent with the majority of the residential time is the primary residential parent and will often have more control over decision-making for the child.

Domestic Partnership – In Washington State, this includes state-registered same-sex couples (all WA domestic partnerships convert automatically to marriage in June 2014 unless the domestic partnership is legally dissolved) or state-registered same-sex or opposite-sex couples where one person is over age 62. Couples wishing to dissolve a domestic partnership must get divorced. Many other states that recognize same-sex relationships, but not marriage, use the term domestic partnership.

Estate Plan - This is a collection of legal documents that includes a will or trust, a living will or healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and burial instructions. Typically drafted by a family or estate planning lawyer.

LGBT – An acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. Variants include GLBT, LGBTQ (the Q stands for questioning or queer), and several others.

Marriage Equality – The legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Opposite-Sex Marriage – A marriage between two people who are opposite genders, i.e. a man and a woman. Also called straight marriage, heterosexual marriage, or traditional marriage.

Power of Attorney – This is a legal document that provides a person with the legal ability to make healthcare and/or financial decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. Typically drafted by a family or estate planning lawyer.

Same-Sex Marriage – A marriage between two people of the same biological gender or the same gender identity. Also called gay marriage.


Copyright © McKinley Irvin, PLLC. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from McKinley Irvin, PLLC.

NOTICE: The content of this guide is provided for general informational purposes only.  It is not intended to convey legal advice. The reader should not rely on the content of this guide for legal advice. McKinley Irvin, PLLC., makes no warranties, express or implied, in connection with the content. McKinley Irvin, PLLC., strongly recommends that any individual facing a family law action seek the advice of a qualified family law attorney.