The United States Supreme Court heard arguments last week for and against government efforts to protect traditional marriage from same-sex marriage.  Whether or not the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional was under discussion by the court on Wednesday. 

DOMA was passed in 1996 and defines legal marriage as a marriage between a man and a woman and thus  prevents legally married gay couples from collecting federal benefits available to straight couples.

The New York Times reported the majority of the high court asked highly skeptical questions concerning the constitutionality of the law, with  justices voicing their opinions that marriage is a matter for the states, and not the federal government.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the pivotal justice on the issue, said DOMA ignores those states “which have come to the conclusion that gay marriage is lawful.”

According to an article in al.com, it appears that five of the nine justices are ready to strike down the act.  Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voiced her opinion  the law targeted gay couples by withholding things such as tax advantages, Social Security benefits and leave to care for a spouse.

If DOMA is struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the effect would be legally married gay couples in those nine states and the District of Columbia that now allow same-sex marriages would be eligible for federal benefits. 

A ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of DOMA is  not expected until June of this year.

Original story found here.

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With June, the most popular month to get married, just around the corner, many couples are planning to tie the knot.  According to two wedding sites, the cost of tying the knot has been inching upward and is now close to an all-time high.

An annual survey by TheKnot.com and the WeddingChannel.com discovered the average cost of a wedding in 2012 was $28,427, the highest average since 2008’s $29,334.

In the survey, 17,500 couples were questioned on their wedding budgets, style preferences and other features related to their wedding.  According to TheKnot.com, the main factor that contributed to the rising cost of a wedding was the couple attempting to create a more “fulfilling experience” for guests.  Anja Winikka, site director for TheKnot.com, said that although guest size was slightly down at weddings in 2012, spending was up.

A few of the ways couples spent more on their guests were paying for transportation to the ceremony and reception, paying for rehearsal dinners and morning-after brunches.   Many couples also spent more on guest entertainment by including photo booths or caricature artists, instead of just having a band or a DJ for entertainment.  These extras, according to Winikka, pushed the average up to $204 per guest.

A break down of weddings costs were: $1,211 for the bride’s dress; $230 for the rental of a groom’s tuxedo; and $560 for the wedding cake.

Where you live can really affect the cost of your wedding.  This survey discovered those couples living in Manhattan spent the most on their wedding with an average wedding coming in at $76, 678.  Alaska was the least expensive place to be wed, with an average wedding cost of  $15,504.

Complete story can be found here.

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A prenuptial agreement, commonly referred to as a prenup, is a contract a couple enters into prior to marriage that contains provisions for division of property, spousal support, forfeiture of assets and other conditions as well should the couple divorce.

One New York woman, Elizabeth Petrakis, signed a prenup days before marrying millionaire Peter Petrakis.  Elizabeth claims her soon-to-be husband promised the premarital contract would be torn up as soon as children were born to the couple.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her husband did not honor his promise.  Three children later, twin boys and a daughter, the prenup is still intact.  For the past seven years, Elizabeth has been arguing with her husband to have the prenup torn up, which he refused to do.

Last month, her prenup was voided by a Brooklyn appellate court, which ruled that Peter misled Elizabeth and therefore ruled in favor of Elizabeth on the grounds of “fraud in the inducement.” 

Elizabeth’s lawyer, after the court’s ruling, stated he was “unaware of a vacated prenup in the state of New York on these or similar grounds.”

In the State of Florida, a prenup or premarital agreement, is enforceable unless it can be proved that:

  • The party did not execute the agreement voluntarily
  • The agreement was the product of fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching
  • The agreement was unconscionable when it was executed

A prenuptial agreement offers a couple the opportunity to be open and frank about finances, assets and other property they bring into a marriage.  A prenuptial agreement does not increase the likelihood of divorce, but does make things easier if the marriage does not work out. An experienced Florida prenuptial attorney can can explain the advantages of entering into a prenuptial agreement, and can also assist you in outlining the provisions of the contract as well.

Original story found here.

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Since the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in September of 2011, the bill has been in limbo in the House.  Republicans and Democrats have been at odds over the wording of the bill, with each party objecting to each other’s version of the bill.

After a year of bickering, the House finally passed a reauthorization of VAWA.  The legislation passed the House by a vote of 286 to 138, with a majority of the GOP voting against the bill and all Democrats voting for the bill.

President Barack Obama called the reauthorization of the bill “an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear.”  He also stated, “Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.”

The same version of this bill was approved by an overwhelming majority of the Senate last month. 

VAWA was first sponsored by Vice President Joe Biden in 1994 when he was a senator.  Vice President Biden spoke at a violence prevention event Thursday and thanked those who fought for the reauthorization of the bill.

The passage of VAWA is a major step forward for women’s human rights and the reauthorization of this act now expands protections for Native American women, immigrant women, and for the LGBT community.  This legislation restores tribal criminal jurisdiction over all persons committing violence against Native American women within Indian country, whereas before, tribal authorities had no jurisdiction to prosecute those non-Native abusers.  Another benefit of VAWA is now tribal courts can issue protective orders.

The act also ensures that LGBT victims of domestic violence will not face discrimination based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity and will be able to access life-saving support services.

The expansion of the Violence Against Women Act is a cause for celebration as VAWA has made a difference in the lives and safety of numerous women in the past, and now will have an even greater impact on women in the future.

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Florida State Senator Eleanor Sobel filed a statewide bill on January 9 that would allow citizens of the state to enter into domestic partnerships.  State Bill 196, which is known as the Families First bill, offers a way for non-married as well as LGBT couples to be legally recognized.

As it stands currently in the State of Florida, atypical couples as well as non-married couples have no legal relationship.  Sobel’s bill would give same-sex couples and non-married couples the same benefits married couples receive, such as hospital visitation rights and other medical decision making responsibilities. 

Although some counties and cities in Florida do have domestic partnerships, statewide there is no policy that covers domestic partnerships.  Those counties that legally recognize same-sex couples are Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Volusia Counties.  Eleven cities in the state also offer some sort of legal recognition for domestic partners.

According to Sarah Warbelow, the State Legislative Director of the Human Rights Campaign, the state of Florida needs to step up to the plate and tackle the issue to ensure non-discrimination.  She reported  a poll by the Human Rights Campaign has shown that 80 percent of Americans support non-discrimination rights for the LGBT community.  However, only fifty percent support marriage equality for the LGBT community.

Mallory Wells, the Public Policy director of Equality Florida, stated equality is an American value, and added, “We’ve seen over the last few years a big increase in the way America recognizes same-sex relationships and LGBT citizens culturally.”

Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry’s founder and president, explained that “until DOMA is overturned and Florida’s gay couples are allowed to marry,  statewide domestic partnership would be a good step to provide those important protections and responsibilities that are denied to those families because of the exclusion from marriage.”

Senator Sobel’s Families First bill would be a step in the right direction for equal rights for all of Florida’s LGBT citizens.

Original story can be found here.

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