Legal Options for the Disowned, Part 1

I get a depressingly large number of cases from people who have been thrown out by their biological parents, or who are fleeing a cult, or who otherwise don't want or can't afford contact with certain biological relatives. This is very difficult from a legal perspective; for example, many laws and most healthcare systems work from the default assumption that the people best able to make decisions for someone incapacitated are blood relatives. Depending on the severity of your situation, there are several steps that we can help you take to change these defaults, and to ensure that your legal situation more closely mirrors your life. 

1. Restraining Orders

Get 'em before you need 'em. Restraining orders are for people who've been harmed or threatened with harm by a lover, partner, family member, or similar. A granted order generally will mean that the restrained person is forbidden from contacting you, coming near you, and so on. They vary a bit from one circumstance to the next, but they're enforceable by the police, which is a huge advantage. 

In the states in which I'm licensed, California and Oregon, you can get a full-force restraining order for violence from a relative, or credible threats of same. It can be a bit harder for relatives who are too geographically distant to really pose much of a threat, or when the acts of violence were long ago, but an experienced firm like ours can generally get around these challenges with expert drafting. A granted restraining order nearly always prevents abusive contact with the protected party, and is a great option if your biological family is or has been violent or threatening towards you. 

2. Medical proxies and powers of attorney

As above, a lot of states will assume that the best person to make decisions for you if you're incapacitated is a blood relative, often a parent. This is bad news for anyone who's been disowned, of course, and is extremely bad news for people who'e come into conflict with their biological family due to sexuality or identification issues. The best way to prevent absent, abusive, or otherwise difficult biological relatives from gaining a remarkable amount of power over you when you're incapacitated is to have a medical proxy and power of attorney form ready to go before anything drastic happens. This way your designated family can make decisions for you when you can't make them yourself. 

A medical proxy, permitted in the family or probate codes in many states, allows you to designate in advance someone to make medical decisions for you if you're incapacitated. These are very specific documents, and unfortunately most hospitals won't accept a form that's almost good enough, due to the fear of liability after the fact. We recommend having an experienced firm draft these, so you can get a fully correct copy on file with your medical providers. I would strongly recommend having a medical proxy set up for people who are trans and are in conflict with their family as a result. 

Powers of attorney are a little more general, and potentially incredibly powerful. A power of attorney, in this case, grants someone the power to make medical and financial decisions for you when you're incapacitated, or in other circumstances you define. This can be crucial if, for example, you're incapacitated in a place your medical insurance doesn't cover, or if you have a condition or identification that requires continuing treatment. With a PoA, you can designate someone to make these decisions for you, though they're not a complete replacement for medical proxy designations, above. You can do these yourself, kinda, but in my experience it really pays to have an attorney go over the documents with you and explain the powers in detail. PoAs are very powerful, and you should be sure you understand the power you're granting. Additionally, it's very helpful to use a law firm's experience in getting everything signed, notarized, and distributed correctly. 

3. Stalking orders

These are actually more useful than you'd think. California leads the nation, in my opinion, in privacy protections, largely because a lot of famous people live here and help write the laws. Accordingly, there are a lot of laws you can use to get a legal wall between you and family members who won't stop contacting you after repeated requests. A stalking order prevents contact, including contact via social media, and it catches a lot of the manipulative things family members often do, like sending gifts. 

The standards are a little tricky, but what we generally do is do a letter of representation from us to said family members, followed by a careful collection of direct or indirect attempts by family members to contact a client who's asked them repeatedly not to. 

Stalking orders are civil, but it's extremely helpful to have a firm like ours handle them, because in California, there are criminal statutes as well. This is handled in more detail in the next post for the disowned, but sometimes you can use the power of the state to get family members out of your life, by having an attorney who can spoon-feed info to the local district attorney. Frankly, I haven't found most DAs to be super excited about pursuing these sorts of orders, but they will if we can make it very simple and fast. I've gotten this to work in Oregon on the very rare occasion, and honestly only because I went to law school with some people who are in the DA's office there now. 

In any event, I hope this post is a useful exploration of some options for people who've been disowned or abused by their family, and who are trying to minimize or stop contact. Being disowned is a heart-wrenching thing, but a firm like ours can at least make it a little easier.