keep-calmOne of the challenges that I see in my work as a family law/divorce/child custody attorney in the Dallas LGBT community is the attitude that only a lawyer who is also gay can represent a gay person. In any field, you should want the best professional for your situation as possible. While a lawyer who is also gay may be a great lawyer and may be very good at the issues you are facing, he or she may not be the only lawyer or even the best lawyer for your situation.

If you have a medical condition, would you only want a doctor who is gay to treat you – or would you want the best doctor for your malady? If you wanted to buy a house, would you only want a realtor who is gay to represent you – or would you want the best realtor for the area you are looking in?

Many lawyers, regardless of sexual orientation, have advocated for same sex couples even before the recent expansion of rights for LGBT people by the US Supreme Court. Gay couples have adopted children, had custody arrangements, and broken up relationships for years before the US Supreme Court decided the Windsor case or the Obergefell case (granting recognition for same sex marriages).

For example, in the late 1990’s I represented a couple in a break up and division of property, under the laws at that time called a Partition suit. I represented gay couples who had children and intended for the children to be raised by them as parents. In fact, I represented a lesbian woman in a custody case, resulting in the first appellate decision in Texas granting standing to a lesbian non-biological parent to sue for access to the child. (See discussion about In re M.K.S. opinion here.)

So, what qualities should a person look for in a lawyer for a gay divorce or child custody suit in Texas? First, look for a lawyer who specializes in Texas family law. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization offers certification in Texas family law, which can be standard to ensure that a lawyer has met certain minimum qualifications. Also, research or ask the lawyer about his or her prior experience in LGBT or gay family law issues. Is the lawyer new to the subject or does the lawyer have a track-record of representing people in LGBT or gay issues? Third, do you have a comfort level with the lawyer? Rapport is an important part of the attorney/client relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the lawyer, he or she will not be a good fit for you. None of those questions involve an inquiry into the lawyer’s personal sexual orientation.

 

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.