One Year After Supreme Court DOMA Ruling, Same-Sex Couples More Aware of Legal Options

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: People carry banners and flags during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 27, 201
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: People carry banners and flags during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Today the high court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether Congress can withhold federal benefits from legally wed gay couples by defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

If there is one common trend that many matrimonial attorneys have been noticing during the past year, it is that as a result of the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex couples are increasingly seeking consultations to review their legal options.

In fact, 36 percent of members responding to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) have noted such an increase. In addition, 44 percent have confirmed that they have handled same-sex marriage or related issues (cohabitation agreements, custody, and support for a same-sex spouse) during the same period of time. Overall, 42 percent of the AAML respondents identified themselves as practicing in a state that allows same-sex marriage, while 51 percent are in states that don't allow same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 7 percent are in states that allow for civil unions and domestic partnerships but not same-sex marriage.

Interestingly enough, even Academy attorneys in the states that currently don't allow same-sex marriage have noted an increased number of consultations with same-sex couples to discuss cohabitation agreements and other legal strategies. While the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA obviously brought a heightened sense of awareness regarding same-sex marriage to the general public throughout the country, it has also apparently served as a wake-up call to many same-sex couples to begin examining their legal options in relation to the laws of their particular state.

For couples in states that don't currently allow same-sex marriage, cohabitation agreements certainly represent a very effective legal tool. Without such a legal agreement in place, many breakups of longtime couples who have been living together can all too often become very complicated.

In states that do currently allow same-sex marriage, the legal advice given to gay couples unsurprisingly mirrors the same given to heterosexual couples. If you have assets to protect, then a prenuptial agreement could often be very advisable. This might actually be an even greater priority for many individuals about to enter into a same-sex marriage, as they may have waited years or even decades for this legal moment to arrive. In the ensuring time period, a considerable amount of wealth and property could have been amassed that might be in need of legal protection.

Another area of high priority involves issues relating to child custody. It is absolutely crucial that same-sex couples look into the laws of their individual states about this topic, because they can vary greatly. The change in the law for states that now acknowledge same-sex marriage has made it easier for a non-biological parent to have closer to equal standing with the biological parent, but this is still an issue to which one must pay very close attention.

While last June's Supreme Court's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act can be seen as a momentous one that has directly resulted in more states allowing same-sex marriage during the past year, it has also acted as a helpful reminder to many same-sex couples that they need to do all their legal homework before making one of the most important commitments of their lives.