Fort Bend County’s LGBTQ+ Ally
Vonda Covington is an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Vonda has always been sensitive to the discrimination faced by the LGBT+ community. When her son came out a few years ago as transgender, Vonda became an active and outspoken ally.
Vonda is a member of PFLAG, Gender Infinity, ACLU, Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston, the LGBT Section of the State Bar of Texas, and the National LGBT Bar Association. Vonda is on the Board of Directors of PFLAG. Vonda also gives presentations at local bar section meetings (for lawyers, and yes, some of the section meetings serve alcohol) about transgender issues, including an introduction to what it means to be transgender.
LGBTQIAP family law is really the same as straight family law – divorce, property division, custody, parenting times, paternity, assisted reproduction, adoption, name change – with a few peculiarities mixed in. One peculiarity is the cultural bias that exists against the LGBT community. Sometimes, we can avoid this bias by filing in a county that is more LGBT friendly, like Travis County or Bexar County. Unfortunately, the Texas Family Code sometimes restricts where we can file a case. For instance, divorces must be filed in a county in which one of the parties resides.
Gender Marker Change
Another peculiarity is gender marker change. This is not done in most family law cases, and few attorneys know how to handle a gender marker change. I dare say that most Texas attorneys don’t even know you can change your gender marker!
Common Law Marriage
A third issue that arises in LGBTQ+ divorces is the length of the marriage. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be limited by the states because of sexual orientation. Common law marriage is informal marriage, without the ceremony and license. For a common law marriage to exist, the couple must (1) consider their relationship to be a marriage, (2) hold out to the community that they are married, and (3) live together in Texas conjugally. Many LGBT couples met these criteria for years before Obergefell.
Since Texas is a community property state, length of marriage can be an important issue. If property is acquired during the marriage (other than by inheritance or gift), it belongs equally to both spouses. However, property acquired before the marriage does not belong to the spouse; it is separate property. If you did not get formally married before Obergefell and you feel that you were really married despite the fact that Texas refused to recognize your marriage, you may be able to prove that you had a common law marriage.
If you meet the criteria for a common law marriage, you can file a Declaration of Informal Marriage with your county clerk. Be sure to date your marriage at the beginning of your marriage relationship, not when the law finally caught up with you. Also, to preserve property rights, you might want to file a Declaration before you marry ceremonially.
If you are looking for a family law attorney who is accepting and supportive of LGBT clients, look no further. Call Vonda and schedule an appointment.