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Update on LGBT family law

D.C. area features wide array of legal protections

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gay family, gay news, Washington Blade
gay family, LGBT family law, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The last several years have seen an incredible change in laws affecting LGBT families in the Washington metropolitan area, and we may see more changes on the federal level in the next several months. Here is a synopsis of laws affecting same-sex headed families in the D.C. area.

Federal level

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on two marriage equality cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. United States on March 26 and 27, and we expect decisions from the court by June 30 of this year. Those decisions could be anything from the court saying that it won’t make substantive decisions in either of these cases, to establishing marriage equality as a constitutional right in the entire United States. Most court observers expect that the court will invalidate Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which would mean that marriage equality for federal purposes would be determined on a state by state (or jurisdiction) basis.  Section 3 defines “marriage” for all federal purposes as between one man and one woman. So, for us in the D.C. metro area, if Section 3 is invalidated, residents of Maryland and the District of Columbia would be considered married for federal purposes, but residents of Virginia would not. There are more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities associated with marriage on the federal level, so federal recognition of our marriages would be huge. Stay tuned!

District of Columbia

The District has had marriage equality since March 9, 2010. There are more than 400 rights and responsibilities associated with marriage for District residents. D.C. residents can still register as domestic partners instead of getting married, but the domestic partnership has little, if any, effect outside the District. There is no residency requirement to marry in the District or register as domestic partners.

D.C. recently enacted a new law that allows couples who married in D.C. and live in a jurisdiction where neither can divorce, to come back to D.C. to get divorced. Of course, the couple should attempt to resolve all issues pertaining to their marriage so they can go forward with an uncontested divorce in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. This law is meant to help with the new meaning of “wedlock.”

The District enacted the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Amendment Act on July 1, 2009. It provides that if a couple is married, registered as domestic partners in D.C., or signs a Consent to Parent, both members of the couple will be presumed to be legal parents of their child under D.C. law if the child is born in D.C. Both parents will be on the birth certificate at birth. Unfortunately, the law may not apply to gay male couples as surrogacy is illegal in the District. The Parentage Act has been amended to allow adoptions in the District based on the birth of the child in D.C., and the amendments are retroactive to July 1, 2009. The law means that a lesbian couple does not have to live in the District in order to obtain a second-parent adoption of their child that will be recognized outside the District of Columbia and on the federal level. This is a big step forward, especially for residents of Virginia who can give birth in D.C. Even with marriage equality, it is essential for couples to obtain second-parent adoptions as birth certificates alone do not confer parental rights, and legal rights to children flowing from marriage may not be recognized in many states, and currently, not by the federal government.

Maryland

Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, same-sex couples have been able to marry in Maryland. Marriages between same-sex couples from outside Maryland have been recognized in Maryland since May 18, 2012, after the decision in Port v. Cowan. Port required Maryland to allow a same-sex couple to divorce in Maryland. Married couples have more than 400 state-based rights and responsibilities. However, there are some issues relating to marriage equality in Maryland that still must be addressed. For example, the Maryland comptroller takes the position that Maryland imports the federal definition of marriage for income and estate tax purposes.

For families in Maryland headed by same-sex couples, a child born into the marriage will be considered the legal child of both parents. For married lesbian couples, both parents will be on the child’s birth certificate at birth. However, we are still working through issues for gay male couples who have children through gestational surrogacy.

Virginia

There has not been much change in Virginia in laws impacting our families, except to go backward. Virginia now allows adoption agencies to explicitly discriminate against LGBT families in placements for children to be adopted.

Second-parent adoptions are not available in Virginia, not because they are specifically outlawed, but because of concerns that the Virginia Legislature may forbid these adoptions if they are attempted. However, in some Virginia counties same-sex couples may obtain a joint custody order of their children. Joint custody orders have been upheld by the Virginia courts.  These orders can be problematic though as they allow both parents to have custody, but only one parent to have responsibility for child support if the couple separates. In addition, the Commonwealth of Virginia may have a say in whether the couple is fit and proper to have their child.

General

Before or after getting married, couples should seriously consider executing pre- or postnuptial agreements which specify their rights and responsibilities during their marriage and if they divorce.  These are particularly important for our families because of the many and varied laws governing marriage for same-sex couples. And, as always, couples and individuals should complete estate planning documents. These are vital in order to make our own decisions about who should inherit our property, make our health care decisions,  manage our finances, and, if we have children, who should take care of them if we can’t.

Michele Zavos is a principal in Zavos Juncker Law Group, PLLC, which practices LGBT family law in all three local jurisdictions. She is a long-time lesbian activist attorney and was the driving force behind the passage of the new D.C. divorce statute and amendments to the D.C. Parentage law.

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Real Estate

Help! I bought a house in the pandemic and winter is coming!

Insulate pipes, locate the water main and more to get ready

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Winter is coming, so prepare your home now.

So you bought a home in the pandemic and now you need to get it ready for winter?  What do you need to be thinking of as the colder months approach? Well, the majority of insurance claims in winter months revolve around broken or busted water pipes. It’s a good idea to know where the main water shut off in your house is, in case you have an emergency. You can also buy pipe insulation that is not too expensive to wrap around exposed pipes.  

Another area of the home that is good to consider is the windows. If you swap out screens for storm windows that gives an extra pane of glass to provide protection from the cold winter air. Screens can go back on in the springtime.

The roof is another area – if you know that any roof tiles are loose, you are going to want to fix those before any large snowstorms, so that any ice or snow doesn’t further loosen the tile and expose your roof to moisture when the snow and ice melts. Make sure the fireplace is ready for winter by having a chimneysweep check it out and also make sure the cap is in place to keep animals out of it.

It’s a good idea to service your HVAC twice a year. Once in the fall, after it has worked hard all summer to cool the house, and right before it works hard again to keep the house warm for the winter. The second time is in the spring when it has just finished the winter’s hard work and is getting ready for round two in the summer. 

Lastly, go outside and inspect the gutters – clean them and double check that they are sturdy and able to handle the fall leaves, or have covers that keep them from getting full from leaves.  I spent a good part of my childhood on a ladder cleaning out the gutters!  It’s how my Mom got me out of the house.  And while you are outside, check trees for vulnerable branches that might snap if there is a heavy snow or ice storm and get those trimmed so they don’t fall onto the house.

Have a great autumn! 

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597. Scott Leidner is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at [email protected] or 443-670-2165.

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Real Estate

Fall market brings mortgage options

Find a loan you can afford with guidelines that make sense

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Fall has normally been the second major season for housing purchases and sales.

One effect of COVID-19 has been to throw us off schedule in the normal seasonal nature of real estate sales. At long last, however, we’re beginning to see its return. 

Traditionally throughout the nation, spring begins in late March or April and is the most popular time of year for buying and selling homes. In the DMV, however, spring comes early – as early as February – and the market begins to heat up as what little snow we get dissipates.

Summer has usually seen interest wane, while house hunting takes a back seat to vacations, summer camp, and participation in barbecues, family gatherings, and other outdoor activities and celebrations.

Fall has normally been the second major season for housing purchases and sales, ranging from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. Thereafter, during the winter market, people begin to plan for holidays and, although houses sell well when adorned with holiday decorations, the fall market may be better suited to allowing for settlements prior to the end of the tax year.

Even though housing inventory remained low, we saw homes in some areas take slightly longer to sell during July and August. In addition, instead of 20 competitors for a single home in a popular area, there might be only five to 10.

Still, in the past two weeks, I have seen activity on my client portals, where buyers receive information about homes that are new to the market, jump exponentially from two or three a week to the same amount in a day.  

With businesses and government agencies continuing to promote remote work, more people are realizing that they need to revamp their existing homes to accommodate office space or purchase new homes with an extra room or two for that purpose. It’s not mini-mansions they want or even a 10/10 on Room Rater or Zoom, just a carved out, quiet space with a door to keep out the household noise.

Interest rates remain low and loan guidelines are not as strict as they were post-2005, with new loan programs available for a variety of situations. If you already own a home and have significant equity and good credit, refinancing your current mortgage might be just what you need to cut costs, eliminate private mortgage insurance, renovate your current space, buy a new residence, or invest in a second home or rental property. 

For example, I bought my current home six years ago with a first mortgage at 4.125% and a second mortgage at 5.75%, both good rates for a 5% down purchase at the time. This past spring, I consolidated those into a single loan at 2.875%, saving roughly $600 per month to put toward bills, renovations, unforeseen home repairs, retirement, and a little bit of just plain fun.

Want to pay off your home faster? If you make just one additional payment of principal on your loan annually, you can pay off a traditional 30-year loan earlier and save several years of interest. A 15-year mortgage is another option. 

As of Sept. 22nd, NerdWallet showed the nationwide average interest rate for a 15-year mortgage to be 2.169%, compared with 2.904% for a 30-year note. Your monthly payment will be higher when the loan is shortened to 15 years, but you will save thousands in interest over the life of the loan. Just remember that quoted rates may not take into consideration how your credit, debts, and equity affect your ability to borrow.

For those looking for an investment property, your income and credit may allow you to refinance and use any excess cash from your equity to start your career as a landlord. This can be an excellent retirement program or savings account for college, since a tenant pays your mortgage.

According to Karen Guess of HomeFirst Mortgage, lending rules now allow a 15% down payment from your own funds (no gifts), rather than the 20% that was previously the standard. A credit score of 620 gets you started and 75% of the average rental income reported in the area can be credited as an asset based on an appraisal of the property. The current interest rate is only 3.5%, but rates can fluctuate daily, so always check with your lender to be sure you have the most current information.

No matter what your need, financing is not what it was in the early 2000s, when lenders wrote pre-approval letters on cocktail napkins and everyone was eligible for a no-documentation, “fake news” mortgage. Contact your loan officer for a mortgage you can afford with guidelines that make sense.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs

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Real Estate

Nationwide housing trends: A look back at 2021 and ahead to 2022

After overheated year and low interest rates, a cooler market to come?

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Low inventory and interest rates made 2021 a seller’s year.

For many potential homebuyers, 2021 was a difficult year in the real estate market. Finding a home that you love at the right price – and having an offer accepted at or around the asking price, in some markets, seemed nearly impossible. On the opposite side of the coin, for sellers, 2021 was a year that, for many, meant multiple offers above the asking price, record sales prices, and the chance to make significant profits. According to a recent Forbes article, cities across the country saw rocketing sales prices – which made for some frazzled home buyers – and some very happy sellers. 

A review of housing trends in a few of the country’s larger and popular LGBTQ-friendly cities prove that this is true. 

• In New York City, the average home sale price was $429,288 in 2020 while the average list price was $579,667 in 2021, indicating an increase in average sale price of approximately 3.3%.

• The Los Angeles area saw an average sale price of $674,395 in 2020 and an average list price of $864,998 in 2021, indicating an increase in average sale price of 5.49%.

• In Seattle, the average home sale price in 2020 was $512,046 while the average list price in 2021 was $651,648, indicating an increase in average sales price of around 6.7%.

• Denver indicated an average home sale price in 2020 of $433,268 and an average list price in 2021 of $526,633, reflecting an increase in average sale price of around 4.40%. 

• San Francisco saw rising prices too, with the average home sale price in 2020 coming in and around $811,787, and the average list price in 2021 being $872,296, marking an increase in average sale price of 2.31% over the course of the year.

From a nationwide perspective, real estate statistics gathered over the course of the last year indicate that the average home sale price between February 2020 and February 2021 was $264,300 across the 97 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States and that the average list price during the same time was $301,389. Moreover, on average, cities across the country reflected a year-over-year increase in home sale prices from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 at 5.43 percent.

Without question, 2021 saw skyrocketing prices in most major cities and fierce competition for available homes. Mortgage rates are low, and supply has also been somewhat low, increasing demand even more in most cities across the country. Although the market is still certainly a seller’s market, there are some signs here and there that it is beginning to cool down a bit, and that 2022 may see a more even playing field. Indeed, recent reports have indicated that housing inventory is beginning to increase, which will mean more options for buyers, and thus, less competition per home, and a wider selection of homes to choose from. 

While this appears to be likely, many experts are finding it unlikely that the market will turn completely.  It is thus not expected that 2022 will be a buyer’s market per se, but simply that the market will be slightly more balanced overall. Mortgage rates and financing generally are expected to remain favorable, which will also enhance the buying power of those looking to make a home purchase. While home prices are expected to rise, it’s generally assumed by financial experts that they will rise at a slower and more reasonable rate for buyers than they did this year. Ultimately, then, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, 2022 looks to be a promising year.

Without question, for much of the country, 2021 was an excellent time to sell a home, and perhaps a more difficult time to buy the one you loved at the price you wanted to pay. While that is currently the case, it’s important to remember that the truth about the real estate market is that it’s ever-changing. Trends can change from year to year or even month to month. That’s why it’s important, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, to connect with a real estate agent who understands those trends, and who can help you determine the best strategies to reach your real estate goals. 

At www.GayRealEstate.com, that’s where we come in. We are passionate about connecting LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, experienced, LGBTQ-friendly agents who know and love their communities, and who are dedicated to helping their clients achieve their dreams. Having the right agent can make the difference between a smooth and successful real estate experience and a stressful one – and you deserve the best. We’re here to help you find it. Get in touch with us any time – we look forward to helping you soon.

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or  [email protected].

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