Gender-neutral changes to the California Family Code: substance from the symbolic

In January of 2015, the California Family Code is facing a monumental shift towards gender equality.  The words “husband” and “wife” or “man” and a “woman” will be replaced with “spouses.”   These changes affect at least the following statutes: Sections 300, 301, 302, 420, 500, 720, 721, 750, 751, 752, 754, 761, 1102, 1500, 1620, 1839, 2200, 2201, 2210, 2211, 2322, 2400, 2401, 3120, 3450, 3551, 3580, 3585, 3600, 4323, and 4930.

So, no big deal right?  Well, not so fast.  One real substantive change flowing from the symbolic will be Family Code Section 4323.

Formerly, Family Code Section 4323 stated that where spousal or partner support is at issue, and if a supported spouse is a cohabitant with a person of the opposite sex, there is a rebuttable presumption of a reduced need for support.  Cohabitant was defined as a romantic/sexual relationship, not just a roommate.  Before 2015, a separated spouse receiving spousal or partner support  who initiated a same-sex relationship was outside the purview of the presumption in 4323, as such a presumption only applied to “a cohabitant of the opposite sex.”  Now, the new language is gender-neutral and applies to a supported party who cohabitates (in the sexual/romantic sense) with someone else, regardless of the gender of the cohabitants.

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