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Justice Dept. announces equal protection for married gay couples

Many people in Spokane may be aware that Washington State laws provide domestic partners with most of the same rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples. At the time of dissolution of a domestic partnership, rules pertaining to legal issues such as property division, alimony, child support, child custody and child visitation are identical to those applied to married couples divorcing. This rule now applies to married same-sex couples too.

In what has been cited as a landmark policy, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that all of its employees nationwide will give equal protection to same-sex marriages in each program it administers. As a result, court proceedings, prison visits and compensation for surviving spouses who lose a loved one who was a public safety officer will mirror those provided to straight couples.

According to the U.S. Attorney General, whenever the DOJ represents the United States in a court proceeding, it will ensure that married homosexual couples are treated identically to married heterosexual couples. The DOJ changed its stance just three years after it decided to stop defending cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act.

The effects of this policy will undoubtedly also be felt among domestic partnerships in Washington State since their rights and privileges are almost the same as married couples. Irrespective of spousal gender, aspects of a separation, including property division, alimony, child support, child custody and visitation rights, will also be applicable to domestic partners.

Since disputes over property division and child custody can be aggravated during a separation, a couple may choose to consult a family law attorney, who can help look for a creative and proactive solution based on their needs and desires. Such a consultation can help a couple avoid the stress and cost of litigation and also safeguard their financial and parental rights.

Source: The Washington Post, "Justice Department to give married same sex couples equal protection," Sari Horwitz, Feb. 9, 2014

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